Pentecost, hypostasis, and apocalypsis

Bryan Reyna - Apokalupsis Eschaton

With my New Testament open, and with Pentecost just around the corner, I’ve been thinking again about the difference that Christ and the Spirit make to our cultural-ethnic boundaries, and it seems to me that what is being championed in Galatians, 1 Corinthians, and elsewhere is not that humanity has been liberated from religious boundaries in order to take up residence as a citizen of a secular, desacralized world, but rather that those baptized into Christ are now to live in the reality of Christ as both the boundary and centre of their existence, a boundary which includes all humanity in our cultural/ethnic/gendered/social/historical particularities. Christ’s kenotic community therefore must not violate the divine-human solidarity announced and secured in the hypostatic union by placing boundaries between itself and the world. But this is not all, for the radical solidarity created in the incarnation also creates a dissonance between that which depends upon arrangements which are passing away and those which depend upon and point to the coming reign of God. Put otherwise, and to borrow language from Ray Anderson, the incarnation and Pentecost announce that ‘historical precedence must give way to eschatological preference’. John Zizioulas makes this point even more radically explicit when he insists that even Jesus must be liberated from his past history in order to bring to the present history of the church his eschatological presence and power:

Now if becoming history is the particularity of the Son in the economy, what is the contribution of the Spirit? Well, precisely the opposite: it is to liberate the Son and the economy from the bondage of history. If the Son dies on the cross, thus succumbing to the bondage of historical existence, it is the Spirit that raises him from the dead. The Spirit is the beyond history, and when he acts in history he does so in order to bring into history the last days, the eschaton.

[Image: Bryan Reyna, ‘Apokalupsis Eschaton’]

‘Enemy of Apathy’: a song for Pentecost, and beyond

Kereru

She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,
hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day;
she sighs and she sings, mothering creation,
waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.

She wings over earth, resting where she wishes,
lighting close at hand or soaring through the skies;
she nestsin the womb, welcoming each wonder,
nourishing potential hidden to our eyes.

She dances in fire, startling her spectators,
waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned;
she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open,
nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained.

For she is the Spirit, one with God in essence,
gifted by the Saviour in eternal love;
and she is the key opening the scriptures,
enemy of apathy and heavenly dove.

– John L. Bell & Graham Maule, ‘Enemy of Apathy’, in The Iona Abbey Worship Book (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 2003), 193. (The hymn also appears in Church Hymnary 4, #593, and in some other places too)

Sunday Hymn: ‘We sing a love that sets all people free’

wind man

We sing a love that sets all people free,
that blows like wind, that burns like scorching flame,
enfolds the earth, springs up like water clear:
come, living love, live in our hearts today.

We sing a love that seeks another’s good,
that longs to serve and not to count the cost,
a love that, yielding, finds itself made new:
come, caring love, live in our hearts today.

We sing a love, unflinching, unafraid
to be itself, despite another’s wrath,
a love that stands alone and undismayed:
come, strengthening love, live in our hearts today.

We sing a love that, wandering, will not rest
until it finds its way, its home, its source,
through joy and sadness pressing on refreshed:
come, pilgrim love, live in our hearts today.

We sing the Holy Spirit, full of love,
who seeks out scars of ancient bitterness,
brings to our wounds the healing grace of Christ:
come, radiant love, live in our hearts today.

– June Boyce-Tillman

[Image: Svetlana Lazarova]

John V. Taylor on the universal Spirit and the meeting of faiths

John V. Taylor’s The Go-Between God: The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission is a profoundly insightful book. Throughout the chapter on religious pluralism, titled ‘Meeting: the Universal Spirit and the Meeting of Faiths’, Taylor reminds us that religion is not the fabrication of theologians with their dogmas but a particular ‘tradition of response to the reality the Holy Spirit has set before their eyes’ (p. 182). Those engaged in inter-faith discourse, even the kind of which John Milbank (in his essay, ‘The End of Dialogue’) rightly refuses to pretend mean ‘anything other than continuing the work of conversion’, will make no headway, Taylor insists, unless they first understand that such traditions of response are both deeply ingrained and dynamic cultural ideas, as well as being attempts at fundamental meaning-making. The first challenge of inter-faith conversation, therefore, is to ‘pay attention to the real conviction that underlies the precise point at which disagreement appears and then try to turn mere confrontation of opposites into a real and possible choice’ (p. 187). In other words, it is to identify the crisis – or, more properly, the crucis – which must be entered into.

Taylor draws upon the work of Kenneth Craig who argues that the contradictions between Muslim and Christian fidelity can be seen to arise from the different ways that Mohammed and Jesus responded to the same situation; namely, being under threat of death. Jesus ‘bowed his head to what was coming’; Mohammed ‘raised his army and marched on Mecca’ (p. 188). (BTW: my colleague Graham Redding drew attention recently to this same fundamental difference, a difference which at bottom reflects two different ideas of God’s nature, on TVNZ’s Q&A program). So Taylor:

But what a strong case Mohammed has! He takes the theology of power seriously. And more often than not, when confronted by the same choice, the Church has taken the Prophet’s way rather than the Messiah’s. Looked at in this way the basic difference between Islam and Christianity becomes an open option, for the Christian no less than for the Muslim – a choice on which we are still making up our minds. The gulf between us is seen, as it were, in cross section. Both I and the Muslim may go forward either on the one side or the other. I said ‘cross section’; for it is nothing less than the cross which is now demanding our decision. (p. 188)

The ‘evangelism of the Holy Spirit’, Taylor insists, ‘consists in creating the occasions for choice’ (pp. 188–9). Enthusiasts of the Gospel ought to be the first to welcome the lesson of the Epiphany story of the magi, not primarily their great learning or the store of their religious experience, but rather the question which they carried, or, rather, which carried them; namely, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?’ (Matt 2.2).

Taylor continues:

I believe that the search for Christ’s relevance is a truer and less static way of describing the aim of dialogue than is the older talk about the one word and light which has inspired other religious systems. For it is not in the propositions, regulations, rituals or traditions of a religious system that his universal presence is to be found, but always independent of these phenomena in the uncontainable unattained to which they point, in the questions [people] ask about them, and the protests [people] make against them. It is as judge and saviour of the religious tradition itself that Christ’s relevance to each religion will be found. It is not so much that he is the culmination or crown of every religion … but that in him each religion will be brought to fulfilment in terms true to itself, through crisis and conversion. (p. 190)

Taylor proceeds to say that the eternal and universally-present Spirit, who is uniquely present in Christ but ‘present through the whole fabric of the world’, has been at work ‘in all ages and all cultures making [people] aware and evoking their response, and always the one to whom he was pointing and bearing witness was the Logos, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Every religion has been a tradition of response to him, however darkly it groped towards him, however anxiously it shied away from him’ (pp. 180, 191). While salvation can only ever come ‘as an interruption, a revolution, a new creation’ (p. 192) of God, Taylor has no doubt that ‘as the Holy Spirit turns Muslim or Hindu or Marxist eyes towards the living Christ, the half-truths in their traditions of response will be completed, error will be shown up, disobedience condemned, all evasion of God brought to a halt, and his Son crucified afresh. And out of all that a new Jesus-centred Hinduism, a new Messiah-centred Islam, a new Christ-directed Communism, will be raised up’ (p. 192).

While there are claims made in Taylor’s chapter that I think warrant some challenge or at least some further teasing out, Taylor’s ‘Spirit-centred theology of missions’ (p. 196) has much to commend it, and I found myself needing to sit again with this chapter and wrestle with some of the very questions that I believe Taylor is inviting the church to wrestle further with. Would that more theological books demanded as much of the reader!

It is what Taylor coins the ‘second dimension’ of the Spirit’s work that I find most stimulating to muse about (to borrow a phrase from Jean-Jacques Rousseau). While the first dimension of the Spirit’s work concerns ‘the level of individual response to the magnetism of Jesus Christ’, and which includes ‘individual conversions from one culture to another’ (p. 192), conversions which are often, as Taylor concedes, extremely costly, the second dimension bears witness to the way that the Spirit works in ways entirely unplanned and unforeseen by the Church, an ‘incidental by-product’ largely out of sight ‘like the submerged mass of the iceberg’ (p. 194; PT Forsyth’s readers will recall the use of that same image in his theology). This dimension of the ‘strategy of God’ refers to ‘something that is beginning to happen within the very life of … other faiths themselves, a ferment, a subtle change, brought about by the influence of Jesus Christ upon them, far beyond any conscious impact that Christians are making’ (p. 194. Italics mine). Might these not be counted among the ‘little lights’ of which Barth spoke, the ‘little lights of creation … that … are not passed over or ignored, let alone destroyed or extinguished, but integrated in the great light’ of the Creator (CD IV.3.1, 156)? To be sure, God is not the God of individuals only, but also of nations, movements, histories. And those who would discern the movements of God would do well to not be fixated with the micro or with the personal (one of pietism’s traps), but to also think in centuries, as Forsyth encouraged, and with a large map of a borderless world before them.

I’ll give Taylor the last word, a word that bespeaks the freedom of grace, the determination of love, and the indispensible gift of the disciples’ costly witness:

For Christ is not the property of us Christians and if we rejoice when the Holy Spirit opens [people’s] eyes to his glory, we must at that moment remember how often the church has blinded them, and pray that we be not once more a stumbling block.

But of one thing we can be certain: there would be no such ferment, no response at all, within the body and fabric of these other great faiths, if those who, one by one, through the past century and a half, have been touched by the magnetism of Christ, had not paid the costly price of public confession and baptism with all that that entailed. For this peculiar faith to which we are committed has no power and no appeal whatever except the power and the appeal of the cross. In the confrontation of many faiths, all our dialogue, all our witness, all our loving service of [people’s] need must point to that. But in order to point another effectually, we may often have to be on the cross ourselves. Whatever else the strategy of the Spirit may include, that part of it has not been taken from us. (pp. 196–7)

Holy Spirit in the World Today Conference talks

Most of the talks from the recent Holy Spirit in the World Today Conference, a two day conference jointly sponsored by St Paul’s Theological College and St Mellitus College, are now available for download:

James K. Baxter: ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’

Wild Goose

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks,
Inside and outside the fences,
You blow where you wish to blow.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the sun who shines on the little plant,
You warm him gently, you give him life,
You raise him up to become a tree with many leaves.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the mother eagle with her young,
Holding them in peace under your feathers.
On the highest mountain you have built your nest,
Above the valley, above the storms of the world,
Where no hunter ever comes.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the bright cloud in whom we hide,
In whom we know already that the battle has been won.
You bring us to our Brother Jesus
To rest our heads upon his shoulder.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the kind fire who does not cease to burn,
Consuming us with flames of love and peace,
Driving us out like sparks to set the world on fire.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
In the love of friends you are building a new house,
Heaven is with us when you are with us.
You are singing your songs in the hearts of the poor
Guide us, wound us, heal us. Bring us to the Father.

– James K. Baxter, ‘Song to the Holy Spirit’, in Collected Poems (ed. John Edward Weir; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 572.

Journal of Reformed Theology is out

The latest issue of Journal of Reformed Theology (Volume 2, Number 2, 2008) is out and includes the following articles:

Cornelius van der Kooi, The Appeal to the Inner Testimony of the Spirit, especially in H. Bavinck

Abstract: “The Reformation took-deliberately and freely-its position in the religious subject.” In this article, the argument is made that Bavinck has not formulated a strong position with this statement; but rather, a dubious starting point for Reformed theology. The question is whether this thesis, with its focus on the subject, can still be maintained in this manner within the current ecumenical situation, or whether it is imperative that it be adjusted.

Jason A. Goroncy, ‘That God May Have Mercy Upon All’: A Review-Essay of Matthias Gockel’s Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election

Abstract: The doctrine of election lies at the heart of Reformed theology. This essay offers a review of Matthias Gockel’s recent comparison between two of Reformed theology’s greatest voices: that of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Karl Barth. Gockel outlines Schleiermacher’s contribution to the doctrine before turning to consider its modifications in Barth’s work. The advance of these two thinkers on this issue has significant implications for the ongoing questions of universal election and universal salvation. Consequently, the possibility of an apokatastasis panton arises naturally from their theology. This possibility is briefly explored.

Oliver D. Crisp, The Election of Jesus Christ

Abstract: In modern theology the election of Christ is often associated with the work of Karl Barth. In this paper, I offer an alternative account of Christ’s election in dialogue with the Post-Reformation Reformed tradition. It turns out that, contrary to popular belief, there is no single ‘Reformed’ doctrine of election; a range of views has been tolerated in the tradition. I set out one particular construal of the election of Christ that stays within the confessional parameters of Reformed theology, while arguing, contrary to some Reformed divines, that Christ is the cause and foundation of election.

Ad Prosman, A Dutch Response to Nihilism: an Evaluation of K.H. Miskotte’s Interaction with Nietzsche

Abstract: This article discusses the way in which the Dutch theologian K.H. Miskotte interpreted the nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche. It will be pointed out that religion is the central notion of Miskotte’s approach of Nietzsche. Discussing this theme, it will be necessary to pay attention to the concept of Nietzsche’s nihilism. From there we receive a clearer insight in the interaction between Miskotte and Nietzsche. It is expected that examining nihilism and the interaction with nihilism will be helpful to contextualize theology. The method of Miskotte is attractive because he does not evaluate nihilism in a philosophical manner, but he counters it by the Thora. Belief stands against belief. Nevertheless we can ask whether Miskotte’s concept of religion is adequate enough to tackle the problems we have to deal with in our nihilistic culture. Is Miskotte right when he connects nihilism and religion, and what kind of religion is he connecting with nihilism?

Mechteld Jansen, Indonesian and Moluccan Immigrant Churches in the Netherlands: Missionary History and Challenge

Abstract: As a result of immigration of many Christians from all parts of the world to the Netherlands, about 1,000 ‘immigrant churches’ have been established in the country during the last decades. This paper focuses on two churches in the Netherlands that mainly consist of members of Asian descent: the Gereja Kristen Indonesia Nederlands (GKIN) and the Geredja Indjili Maluku (GIM). Both are Protestant churches that have a history within the Netherlands for many years. Since these churches are not very well-known in the worldwide family of Reformed churches, I will describe their historical and cultural backgrounds quite extensively. This also includes the Dutch missionary involvement with the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. Subsequently, I will turn to their actual situation, and my main question will be how they view and carry out their missionary vocation in Dutch society. In the final section, it will be maintained that these churches do not simply mirror the missionary approach of the Dutch in Indonesia, but they consider themselves partners with other churches in a revised mission in which their own features can be a blessing for the whole Dutch society.

You were in this place … but we never knew

About 15 years ago now, I was introduced to a wonderful book by Vincent J. Donovan entitled Christianity Rediscovered. I have posted on this book before, and have never really gotten over reading it. I can’t remember how many copies I’ve given away. I only mention it here because I was reminded of it twice again today.

First, after following some of the (mostly) ignorant commentary on Rowan Williams’ recent lecture on Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective. (As well as the copious newspaper and blog articles, there’s also this frustrating discussion on BBC Wales with Kim Fabricius and Peter Hitchens). For a clarification of what Rowan did and did not propose see this post on What did the Archbishop actually say?

Second, I had reason today to revisit a paper given at a Faith & Unity Commission Meeting in 2003. As the report from that commission states, ‘the paper represents the thoughts and discussions of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission. It comes out of a couple of workshops held at their Commission meetings in late 2002 and early 2003’. The result is a powerful restatement of the grace of God at work in the world and in particular human communities, the God who is determined to make himself known because he does not want to be God without us. Here is a rich testimony, akin to that which Donovan was offered by the Masai elders. The paper reads:

We are what we are – Spirit People

We Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples believe that the Creator has always been with our people since the beginning of time. Our connection to this land Australia and the stories from long ago emphasise this and reveals to us our ongoing relationship to the Creator. We know that the Spirit is always close to us and within us. The Spirits of our ancestors are always around us looking out for us and showing us the path we should travel. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.

We have been given a gift to offer the rest of humanity; the importance of relationships. The Creator still has a strong relationship with us and helps us build stronger relationships with one another. These relationships also cover everything around us, for it is through the land, water and air that we are continually reminded of this. It is not just the symbol of the rainbow that reminds us about the covenant between the Creator and humanity. There are signs all around us that continually reminds us of the Covenant.

Our peoples are generous, caring and compassionate towards each other and other Australians. We have survived many negative things yet we still reach out our hand in reconciliation. This is the message of long ago from our roots and also the message through the Christian Bible. It has been the message passed down from generation to generation from parent to children since time began.

The Spirit lives on through us and we must continually foster this relationship through acts that remind us of this great truth. These acts are ceremonies, which help us to draw closer to our creator who has left the Spirit with us. Through them we retell and relive the great stories of our past.

Since the coming of the Western Culture, there has been a breakdown in our relationship with the Creator. Our ways have been under threat and this has led us to move away from our roots and into a foreign way of thinking. This has caused hardships within our communities as we struggle to find our way. Sometimes we have failed to recognise the Spirit present with us. We looked to the new culture to show us the way forward and it has led to more confusion and loss of direction. This culture has failed our people. It has shown it cannot satisfy our deepest yearnings.

This culture wanted us to look for the Creator through their eyes. They have failed to see that the Creator exists within our culture. While Abraham was wandering in the desert our peoples had been for many generations living in close relationship with our Creator. We have an Old Testament, which we can now accept as part of our salvation history.

How short sighted Western Culture was to think they had the monopoly on the Creator and how blinded were we to believe this was true. It is up to us to reclaim our beliefs. Our Creator yearns for us to come back. Our relationship has been tested and made stronger because of the many mistakes along the journey because we have learnt so much from the experience. We now know about Christ. This story from the Western Culture has touched and had an impact on our lives.

We did not have Jesus amongst us as the Apostles did but he left us the Spirit of the Creator with us. We know this Spirit to be the same Spirit who is with us now because of what it has done and continues to do. This Spirit of relationships reminds us about our responsibilities to one another and creation and that we all come from the same source of life. This Spirit is also the Spirit of the Rainbow Serpent, the Brolga, the Emu, the Stars, the Fish, the Plants, the mountains and much more. We must hold on to and strengthen our Spiritual heritage.

As a Minority we stand as the strength of this Land. We affirm our belief in the Creator Spirit who created us. It is in our connection to this deep sense of belonging that our Identity lives. Our Culture can never be broken. We embrace our past. We are alive in the present and have hope in the future. The Creator Spirit calls us into a search for a deeper relationship with himself and each other. The Creator Spirit calls us to renewal.

Back in 1996, Wadjularbinna Doomadgee, a Gungalidda Leader on the Gulf of Carpentaria too bore witness to what Donovan had also ‘discovered’:

So the sad thing about it all was the missionaries didn’t realise that we already had something that tied in with what they’d brought to us. They saw different as inferior, and they didn’t ask us what it was that we had. And it’s very sad because if they had asked … things may have been different today.

Our people, before the white man came were very spiritual people. They were connected to land and creation through the great spirit, there was a good great and a great evil spirit … And Satan was the great evil one. So there wasn’t much difference in what the missionaries brought and what we already had …

One of the songs we used to sing regularly at our weekly college chapel services, and which bears witness to this reality, is Robin Mann’s You were in this place. I offer it here as a prayer:

1. At the dawn of the ages
You pulled land from the sea
With your Word You invented
All we know, all we see
Creek and desert and forest,
Red and grey Kangaroo
You were in this place
But we never knew.

2. Do we take after Jacob –
Blind to what lies at hand,
Needing dreams to inform us
God is here in this land?
See him suffering and dying,
Bread and wine tell the news
You were in this place
But we never knew.

3. Paintings seen on the rock face
Footprints left in the sand.
Campfire next to the river,
Songs that rise from the land
Signs that seem so elusive,
Shadows just out of view.
You were in this place
But we never knew.

4. Jesus, open our senses
Help us to see you today
In the person beside us,
As we work, as we play.
While we love you and serve you
May it never be true:
You were in this place
But we never knew.

Colin Gunton’s ‘The Barth Lectures’: A Review

Colin E. Gunton, The Barth Lectures (transcribed and edited by Paul H. Brazier; T&T Clark, London/New York, 2007). xxiv + 285 pages. ISBN: 9780567031402.

While he fruitfully enjoyed a life-long engagement with and formation by Karl Barth’s work, produced numerous articles on various aspects of such, and lectured on Barth most years he taught at King’s College London, Colin Gunton never fulfilled his ambition to pen a monograph devoted solely to this his favourite theologian. Had he done so, these lectures (recorded and transcribed almost verbatim by Paul Brazier, complete with charts, diagrams, live-questions and Gunton’s responses) would have served as the basis.

Chapters 1-3 attend to the intellectual, historical and theological background to Barth’s thinking. Beginning with a focus on Enlightenment philosophy as it finds voice in Kant, Schleiermacher and Hegel – all three of whom ‘identified Christianity too closely with modern culture’ (p. 17) – Gunton then turns to Barth’s early theological formation in the nineteenth-century liberalism of Harnack and Herrmann, as well as to some other voices and ideas that impinged on Barth’s theological development – Johann Christoph Blumhardt (who also influenced Moltmann), Albert Schweitzer and Franz Overbeck through whom eschatology was re-confirmed on the theological radar. Barth’s engagement with existentialism (Kierkegaardian and other) and theologies of ‘religion’, ‘crisis’ and ‘dialectics’ are introduced in the second and third lectures, and re-appear subsequently throughout. Certainly, for the Swiss theologian, ‘no road to the eternal world has ever existed except the road of negation’ (p. 33). Thus when Gunton later comes to unpack something of the charge concerning Barth’s ‘irrationality’ through the continuing influence of Der Römerbrief, empiricism, and Barth’s ‘assertive style’, the United Reformed Church minister notes:

The influence of empiricism, especially on the minds of English and American theologians, cannot be dismissed. The English, or to be more pertinent, the Anglican theological mind is shaped by a philosophical tradition that does not find Barth’s approach to theology easy to understand let alone agree with … Part of our intellectual tradition makes it hard for us to understand – particularly an Anglican tradition. Anglicans on the whole like things to be nice and middle way, the via media. And there is not much of the middle way in Karl Barth! … Barth’s assertive style does make it difficult for mild-mannered establishment Anglicans to cope with. (p. 66)

Whether critiquing Augustine, Calvin, Kant, the ‘Absolutely Pagan’ Hegel (p. 17), or the ‘great opponent’ Schleiermacher (p. 15), Gunton repeatedly identifies that the crucial question for the author of the groundbreaking Der Römerbrief remains ‘how much of your intellectual method hangs on something foreign to Christianity?’ (p. 42; cf. pp. 52-3). To this end, Gunton also devotes an entire lecture (pp. 53-63) to Barth’s 1931 work on Anselm, Fides quaerens intellectum, and to the Archbishop’s understanding of the relationship between ‘proof’, ‘reason’ and ‘faith’. He later writes: ‘Barth is a post-Reformation thinker with the rallying cry, by scripture alone and by faith alone! Barth found in the Reformation tradition a conception of theology based on a view of God that is linked with human salvation. The problem for Barth with the Scholastic tradition is that they begin with a rational view of God – a rational idea of God abstracted from human salvation. Barth begins with scripture because the God of scripture is about salvation not philosophical argument’ (p. 69). And on a comparison with Schleiermacher: ‘the problem with beginning with religion is that it is not theological, it can be, it can lead into theology, but in essence it is not: religion is an experiential concept, not a theological concept. Barth wants a theology that is theological right from the very outset. Barth considers that Roman Catholics and Protestants such as Schleiermacher are wrong in thinking that there can be a non-theological basis for theology. Barth is a theologian you see, to the fingernails’ (p. 69).

From Chapter Four onwards, Gunton turns to Barth’s Church Dogmatics, acutely aware that ‘there is nothing as boring as résumés of Barth’s Dogmatics‘ and that ‘the way to get into Barth is to select and to read – read him, there is no substitute!’ (p. 71). Over the next 190 pages, this is precisely what Gunton masterfully helps us do; whether on Barth’s theological prolegomena, his witness to the three-fold Word, trinity, the doctrine of God proper, election, christology, soteriology, ethics and creation, we are all along driven by the only thing of theological interest for Barth, the question ‘Who is the God who makes himself known in Scripture?’ (p. 77). ‘When Barth is at his best’, Gunton writes, ‘he looks at the biblical evidence in detail; when he is weak he tends to evade it’ (p. 119)

A few tastes from ‘5. Barth on the Trinity and the Personal God’:

Barth is anti-foundationalist … God’s revelation is self-grounded; it does not have to appeal to anything else beyond itself. Because it is revelation through itself, not in relation to something else, because it is self-contained, lordship means freedom. This is characteristically Barthian: a characteristically Barthian phrase. Lordship means freedom – freedom for God, absolutely central for Barth’s theology. (p. 78)

The basis of all theology lies in the fact that revelation does happen … This revelation is Christological: Jesus Christ is God’s self-unveiling. The Father cannot be unveiled, but the Father reveals through the Son. This is imparted through the Holy Spirit. A little artificial I actually think, but you can see what he is actually trying to do: he is trying to show that inherent in the structure of God’s presence in Jesus Christ is a Trinitarian view of God … The point here is that in Jesus Christ we see the limits, the possibilities of the knowability of God … So Barth in a way is still retaining this dialectical structure: veiling-unveiling, knowability -unknowability, revelation-hiddenness … In the end you have only got paradox … God preserves his privacy. (pp. 79-80)

The logic is that if God is like this in time then because he doesn’t con us, so to speak, he doesn’t pull the wool over our eyes, because he is a revealing God, then that is what God is. So don’t think that the God we meet in Jesus is one God and that the God of eternity is entirely different from Jesus. The God you meet in Jesus is no different from the God you might meet if you were able to have a direct view of eternity. (p. 83)

Barth is against all mathematics in theology – he is against theories and ideas propounded down the centuries by theologians whereby examples are given of the Trinity, where three things make one; Augustine was often doing this, it is pure analogy or an attempt at analogy, which generally fails to offer any theological elucidation … I don’t like Augustine. I think he is the fountainhead of our troubles. (pp. 84, 96)

[Barth] is often accused of modalism, and I think he is near it … I think he is on a bit of a knife-edge myself, but then all theology is on a knife-edge, it is such a difficult discipline. [Barth] wants to do what the Cappadocians did, and Barth thinks he has done it better with this term – ‘modes of being’. Well, I don’t agree with him, but that is the way he puts it. (pp. 88-9)

Theology is our interpretation of God’s self-interpretation. God interprets himself to us, that is what revelation is. Our response is to interpret this faithfully, or as Jüngel would put it, responsibly … We move from faith to understanding. We move from a grateful acceptance of revelation to an attempt to understand as best we may what that revelation means for God and ourselves. And the understanding consists in the fact that we can talk of God as Father, Son and Spirit. It is so obvious that we should, isn’t it! We might talk of God as a tyrannical monad, but the fact that we can talk of God as Father, Son and Spirit is, so to speak, a demonstration after the event that we are making sense, that God is making sense, our theology makes sense. (p. 91)

And from ‘8. Ethics: Church Dogmatics Chapter VIII:

I do think that there is a problem of abstractness because there isn’t really in Barth, I think (and I say this tentatively), I think that there isn’t really in Barth an account of how this relationship between God and the moral agent takes shape. There is not much of a principle of formation. How are people formed so as to take one ethical direction rather than another? Barth is relatively weak in ecclesiology; that is, some account of how ethics are shaped by the community of belief. He is so anxious not to tie God down; that is always his anxiety, not to tie God down. (p. 133)

Throughout, Gunton is rousing his 30-40 mostly MA and PhD students (although the lectures were intended for undergraduates and so leave considerable ground un-traversed and engage minimally with secondary literature) to ‘read as much of the man himself’ not least because ‘the people that write about him are much more boring than he is’ (p. 9; cf. p. 39). In a sense, this is one book to ‘listen to’ more than to ‘read’. At times, it’s a bit like the difference between a live album and a studio version. Not all the notes are spot on, but the energy – filled with a depth of theological and pastoral insight that betray years of wrestling with the things that matter – is all there.

Such wrestling means that whether expounding a key motif in Barth’s theology or fielding questions, Gunton reveals not only a deep indebtedness to Barth’s work, but also points of divergence. He is upfront in the first lecture: ‘Not everyone buys into Barth … I don’t, all the way along the line, as I get older I get more and more dissatisfied with the details of his working out of the faith … over the years I think I have developed a reasonable view of this great man who is thoroughly exciting and particularly, I can guarantee, if you do this course, that you will be a better theologian by the third year, whether or not you agree with him – he is a great man to learn to think theologically with’ (p. 10; see the prefaces to his Theology Through the Theologians and to the second edition of The Promise of Trinitarian Theology). Clearly, Gunton is no clone of Barth. Though mostly unnamed, he draws upon Coleridge, Owen, Zizioulas and Polanyi as allies in order to attain a measure of distance from Barth’s theology (and that of Barth’s student Moltmann), notably on creation, trinitarian personhood (Gunton prefers the Cappadocians), natural revelation, Jesus’ humanity, Christ’s priesthood, the Word’s action as mediator of creation, ecclesiology, and an over-realised eschatology, among other things (see pp. 52, 74, 82, 88-90, 96, 133, 142, 148, 170-1, 186, 200, 212, 227, 236, 250, 253-4, passim). Not alone here, Gunton reserves his strongest criticisms for what he contends is Barth’s weak pneumatology (for which he blames Augustine and the filioque): there is ‘not enough of the Spirit accompanying and empowering Jesus at different stages of his ministry’ (p. 200). Again: ‘the second person of the Trinity is made to do a bit more than he does in Scripture’ (p. 212). Gunton is always cautious and respectful however: Barth ‘never really forgets anything, he is too good a theologian for that. And when you are criticizing Barth it is only a question of where he puts a weight; he never forgets anything, he is too good a man for that’ (p. 171). Even on the Spirit, Gunton suggests that he can only be critical here because of what he has learnt from Barth already: ‘That’s the great thing about Barth: he enables you to do other things that aren’t just Barth but yet are empowered by him. Yes, that’s his greatness’ (p. 200).

While the reformed theologian is ‘too-multi-layered a thinker to have one leading idea’ if there is one, Gunton suggests it is that of covenant: ‘that from eternity God covenants to be the God who elects human beings into relation with himself’ (p. 149), that from eternity the triune God is oriented towards us. Gunton’s chapter on Barth’s revision of God’s election in CD II/2 is an astounding example of his adroitness and élan as a theological educator. Not many teachers could summarise so sufficiently and with such economy (just 12 pages!) what for Barth is the root of all things, ‘creation, atonement, all’ (p. 115), that is, election. Gunton concludes by (over?)-suggesting that Barth’s effort was ‘a huge improvement in the crude determinism of the Augustinian tradition, which did not represent a gracious God. The Augustinian doctrine replaces grace with gratuity: God gratuitously chooses group A and not group B – this is not the God who seeks out the lost [even Judas] and does not reject them’ (p. 121).

This volume is significantly more than merely a course on the theology of the twentieth century’s superlative theologian. It is also a reminder that to read Barth attentively is to be introduced to a broader dogmatic and philosophical tradition. Moreover, it is to be led to do so by one of Britain’s ablest pedagogues. A foreword by Christoph Schwöbel and a warm introduction by Steve Holmes prepare us for one of the freshest introductions to Barth available. Again, we are placed in Professor Gunton’s debt.

Bleby and Pennicook on the Holy Spirit

New Creation Teaching Ministry has made available for download the talks from the 2007 NSW Spring School. Here they are:

‘The Spirit of Glory’, Martin Bleby (50 min)

‘The Love of the Spirit’, Martin Bleby (58 min)

‘The Spirit and the Community of Love’, Ian Pennicook (62 min)

‘The Spirit and the Son – Part 2’, Martin Bleby (51 min)

‘The Ministry of the Spirit’, Ian Pennicook (47 min)

Plus 2 sermons:

‘Can These Bones Live?’ (Ezekiel 37), Ian Pennicook (36 min)

‘The Breath of God Has Come’, (Ezekiel 37), Martin Bleby (27 min)

Spirit Talks

Recently, some of the team from the New Creation Teaching Ministry were involved in a teaching weekend at Mt Gambier. They have generously made these talks available as MP3 downloads:

Talk 1: Martin Bleby, Did You Receive the Spirit?

Talk 2: Noel Due, The Spirit and the Son

Talk 3: Martin Bleby, The Spirit and the Cross

Talk 4: Noel Due, The Coming of the Spirit

Talk 5: Wayne Lines, The Spirit, the Word and the World

Talk 6: Wayne Lines: Spirit of Love

Talk 7: Martin Bleby: Spirit of Glory, Spirit of God

Fiery Dove, what are You doing here?

A hymn by Martin Bleby

1. Fiery Dove, what are You doing here?
Is it love, or do You come with fear?
Have You come to unsettle our soul?
Are we done? Or can You make us whole?

2. We are lost in a hell of our own.
We are tossed, weather-beaten, wind-blown:
Will You sink us, so we are no more?
Will You bring us safe home to the shore?

3. ‘I have come to convict you of sin
And to run all the unrighteous in;
Let you know that the judgement is past,
And to show you the kingdom at last.

4. ‘There is He, who has suffered your shame!
Come and see how He wore all your blame!
He’s now Lord, with the Father above—
I’m outpoured to fill you with His love.’

5. Holy Dove, come and set us on fire:
With that love, burn up all wrong desire!
Let us rest in the Father and Son,
In the best, that their victory has won!

6. In Your praise let us take up our part
All our days, with clean hands and pure heart!
For Your comfort has settled our soul—
We were done for, and now are made whole.

7. Fiery Dove, what are You doing here?
Is it love, or do You come with fear?
Have You come to unsettle our soul?
Are we done? Or can You make us whole?

Baptism – an Evangelical Sacrament Part 7 (final)

I began this 7-part series by quoting a portion of Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and I have tried to show in this paper how that one baptism in this Pauline passage, points directly to Jesus Christ as the one Lord of the Church, for it was through his vicarious activity in life, death and resurrection that the Church came into being. Thus the Church can, and does, baptise, as it is in Christ. Christ himself was both the ontological ground and unifying core of the Church which he appropriated to himself as his own peculiar possession, and identified with himself as his own Body. Hence baptism in his name signified incorporation of the baptised in Christ as members of his body.One the other hand, one baptism pointed to the one Sprit, for it is one Spirit as well as through Christ that the Church has access to the Father. Furthermore, “the Holy Spirit is not only the bond of unity between the three divine Persons in the one being of God, but the bond of unity between God and human beings as they are baptised into the one Lord and are united with him and one another in one faith.”

It would be amiss of me if I did not also speak of the evangelical content of that one baptism, namely, ‘the remission of sins, the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’ (Nicene Creed). The forgiveness of sins was associated with baptism from the very beginning. In baptism we are united to Christ through the Holy Spirit in such a way that we partake of the whole substance of the Gospel, for all grace and truth are embodied in him. In other words, saving grace is not something detached from Christ which can be dispensed at will, but is identical with Christ in the unity of his Person, Word and Act. It is through the one baptism which we have in common with Christ, or rather which he has in common with us, that we share in all that God has in store for us. Because baptism is one (the baptism with which Christ was baptised for our sakes, and the baptism in which we are given to share in all he was, is and will be) to be baptised is much more than to be initiated into the sphere where forgiveness is proclaimed and dispensed in the Church. It is to be ‘delivered from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’. It is to have our frail transient existence taken up into Christ himself in such a way that, without any loss to our creaturely reality but rather with its perfecting through his Spirit, it is united to God and established in union with his eternal reality.

‘The remission of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come’, belong together to the very core of this mystery, for they are the saving benefits that flow from union with Christ through one baptism and one Spirit, and are enjoyed in one Body. They are not benefits that we may have outside of Christ but only in Christ, and so they may not be experienced in separation from one another for they cohere indivisibly in him. Nor may they be enjoyed in the experience of separated individuals, but only as individuals share together in the one baptism of Christ and his Spirit. People are certainly baptised one by one, yet only in such a way that they are made members of the one Body of Christ, share in his benefits as a whole, and share in them together with all other members of Christ’s Body.

To be united to the crucified and risen Christ through the baptism of his Spirit, necessarily carries with it sharing with him in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Through his incarnation the Son of God took up into himself our physical existence enslaved to sin, thereby making our corruption, death and judgement his own and offering himself as a substitute for us, so that through the atoning sacrifice of his own life, he might destroy the power that corruption and death have over us. And through the resurrection of our physical human nature in himself Christ has set us upon an altogether different basis in relation to God in which there is no longer any place for corruption and death. Thus the central focus of Christian belief is upon the incarnate, crucified and risen Saviour, who is himself the ‘evangelical sacrament’ in whom we participate, for he has penetrated and destroyed the bands of death and brought ‘life and immortality to light’ – that is the forgiveness of sins and resurrection from the dead into which we are once for all baptised by the Holy Spirit. So, far from being just a promise for the future, baptism is an evangelical declaration of what has already taken place in Christ, and in him continues as a permanent triumphant reality throughout the whole course of time to its consummation, when Christ will return with glory in judgement, and to unveil the great regeneration which he has accomplished for the whole creation.

So here and now in the ongoing life of the Church we live in the midst of the advent-presence of Christ, already partaking of this regeneration and sharing in its blessings with one another. Because the Church is the Body of the risen, ascended, and coming, Christ, all that is said about the one baptism is proleptically conditioned by the future. Hence due to its union with Christ through one baptism and one Spirit the Church cannot but look through its participation in the saving death of Christ to its participation in his resurrection from the dead, and thus look forward in expectation to the general resurrection at the return of its risen Lord and Saviour when its whole existence will be transformed and it will enjoy to the full the sanctity and eternal life of God himself. So Paul writes: ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish’.