Thursday, December 18, 2014

Let my Jesus go (enough is enough)

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As you may have heard, a recent poll found that American Christians are more likely to support torture than non-religious Americans. The poll, conducted by Washington Post/ABC found that 69 percent of white evangelical Americans “believe the CIA treatment was justified.”

Are we surprised. I’m not. I wish I was surprised. But it’s par for the evangelical course in this country.

But my gosh, enough is enough. Right?

Hasn’t ENOUGH been ENOUGH for many many years?

I mean, like so many of you, I’ve long been tired of watching Jesus get dragged through America’s evangelical mud. And for some reason, 2014 has felt more exhausting than most. I mean, how far are America’s evangelicals willing to take Jesus in order to maintain (or keep safe) their cozy straight white American middle-to-upper-class lives? American evangelicals hate when other groups poke fun or mock Jesus in the public square, all the while crucifying Jesus themselves with their beliefs, fears, and actions.

How far will they go, friends?

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of American evangelicals owning the copyright on Jesus in America. I’m tired of them treating Jesus however the hell they want to.

Way too long ago, they confiscated Jesus, stealing him away into their camps to use him as a foundation on which to stand up for or stand up against whatever best fits their own needs, their own desires, their own worldviews, and their own economic gain.

How long are they going to hold Jesus hostage in their theopolitical clutches?

How long are they going to abuse Jesus with their intolerance?

How long are they going to speak with their lips of Jesus being a healer and then use him as a weapon against the poorest Americans?

How long, friends?

Read more at http://matthewpaulturner.com/2014/12/18/let-jesus-go-enough-enough/

Plenty of room at the Inn: The Nativity Scene Resurrected

 
Lego Nativity Scene with Kataluma

A Lego nativity scene with kataluma created by Jacob Hosanna.

As a prophet said, we are capable of so many things, us humans.

You may be used to it — the nativity story as told by wonderful, small humans from St. Paul’s Church in Auckland, New Zealand, or the recordings from the early ‘60s of Bible stories told by children in Dublin City. They are charming, beautiful. They are full of such potential and pleasure in the art of the imagination and the craft of storytelling.

However, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out recently (and many others, including Ken Bailey), the way we tell the story is often unfaithful to the text. Luke’s gospel, from which much of the story comes, records no stable, no animals, and, most importantly, no inhospitality. Luke, normally so kind and gracious, giving so much time to stories of the marginalized, rushes through the birth of Jesus as if it was of little importance. Joseph and Mary had gone to Bethlehem for the census (oh, those number-loving Romans) and:
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
See? No animals, no inhospitality, no stable.

The word used for “inn” here is a curious one. In Greek, there are two words for "inn": "kataluma" and "pandocheion." It is the latter, pandocheion, used by Luke in the telling of the story of mobbed man resembles what we understand to be an inn — a resting house, with an owner and rooms.
Kataluma, the word used in the nativity story (and interestingly, also used to denote the upper room of the last supper) was really a different thing altogether. Most people of the time lived in a one-room structure. In that room there was space for living and sleeping, a fireplace. Additionally, the animals were brought in for the night to that same space — for protection and also because of the warmth they’d give. Those houses lucky enough to have a kataluma had an additional guest room. This room, the kataluma, could be rented out. So, it seems that Joseph and Mary, arriving in Bethlehem, could not find a kataluma, so they had the baby and laid him in the manger, which would have been in the living space of a family who made room for them in their own place of life.

There's a wonderful Lego image of the kataluma by Jacob Hosanna. It is much more ordinary. Much less dramatic. Much less offensive to the good people of the Holy Land who are aghast at Western tellings of the nativity story implying that anyone would turn away a woman in the last moments of pregnancy.

Those New Zealand kids were right about one thing though: the sense of celebration. Matthew's recounting of the arrival of those strange Magi details, with a superfluity unusual in the gospel texts that they e˙ca¿rhsan cara»n mega¿lhn sfo/dra, literally, "they rejoiced with a great joy exceedingly."
The way we tell the story tells so much. Stars and angels and joy and delight. Also, inhospitality, cruelty, insult, and limitation.

We must always be attentive to the edges of our own storytelling. Attractive as it may be to children,
and lodged as it may be upon the portrayed scenes of religious Christmas cards, it is simply incorrect to think that Mary and Joseph were forced into a stable. They found shelter in the kindness of a family, presumably Joseph's kin, in his traditional homeland of Bethlehem. This kindness was so ordinary, so expected, so taken for granted that Luke, the gentle evangelist, did not even make mention of the family whose home was used for what we consider to be the birthing of a godchild to confused parents.

As Krista Tippett wrote, it's not provable. But, the telling of the story can make many things possible.
We might realize that every moment of human encounter, every small demonstration of hospitality, carries within it the possibility for incarnation. We can see that human touch, the actual touching of flesh, and flesh is in itself sacred. We can also see that religion at its best can communicate an honor for the ordinary, the everyday, the unremarkable — and find something remarkable in the midst of this parochial normality.

We are capable of so many things, us humans. Hospitality and hostility. Kindness and cruelty. What prophet said that? I don't know. I made it up. If one didn't say it, one should have said it. While it may not be true, it's definitely not untrue.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Pale Blue Christmas - Brent Strawn

In recent years, philosophers, psychologists, and theologians have done just that, deepening our understanding of happiness in the process. It's too simple to equate happiness with a pleasurable life, these experts say; understanding happiness in that way is too narrow and limited. Instead, happiness is best defined as the good or meaningful life. That kind of life is never far removed from the harsher realities of life, simply because no life is. But that doesn't mean that a life marked with sadness can't, despite all that, still be meaningful and good. And so, even complex lives can be appropriately called "happy" -- these lives include laughter, yes, but also tears, screams, and groans.

Though Blue Christmas celebrations mean well, they don't help us integrate the real sorrow we feel with the real joy of the holidays because they end up separating the two altogether, placing them in completely different categories. That keeps us from dealing with the reality that sorrow and joy live together, in complicated ways, always. The proof is found in Matthew's account of Jesus' joyous birth alongside Herod's murderous rage; it's equally evident from our own wonderful, sorrow-filled lives, not to mention from our complex, fractured planet.

Read more http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brent-a-strawn/a-pale-blue-christmas_b_6331014.html

The Un-Moral Christian

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In recent articles I have challenged the place of contemporary morality in the Christian life. Some have had difficulty with this, wondering how we should then think about the commandments that are directed towards our behavior. Others have suggested that my challenge is merely semantic. There are certainly semantic distinctions being made here – but the reason for them is important and goes beyond mere words. But if it is not proper to think of ourselves as “moral” beings, how should we think? How do we confess our sins if morality is not the issue?
 
Our culture sees morality as the rules and standards by which we guide ourselves. These rules of conduct are external and can be described and discussed. They are the rules by which we choose how to behave and by which we sometimes judge others. In this, everybody can be said to be “moral.” Atheists invariably adhere to some standard of conduct – it is just what human beings do. We are sometimes inconsistent and often cannot explain very well the philosophical underpinnings of our actions – but everyone has rules for themselves and standards that they expect of others.
 
But it is precisely this that sets Christians apart – that makes them “unmoral” (not “immoral”). The nature of the Christian life is not rightly described as the adherence to an external set of norms and standards, even if those norms and standards are described as being “from God.” The “unmoral” life of Christians is a different mode of existence. The Christian life is not described so much by what it does as by how it does.
 
This “unmoral” life is not necessarily exception for its behavior. If this were not so, then an atheist “acting” like a Christian, would seem to be a Christian. Indeed, at one point in our culture, a “Christian gentleman” meant nothing more than a “gentleman.” This is often the case in public morality. Most Christians seem to be little different from their non-Christian friends. They cannot describe how it is that they differ other than to say that they “think” certain things about God and the universe. But did Christ die only to give us certain ideas?
 
If the unmoral life is not about behavior, what is it about?
 
It is about being a god.
 
This, of course, is shocking language, but it is the Christian faith. The life of a fish is about being a fish. It is not about swimming or breathing water (though these certainly are part of a fish’s life). But a man with a special device can breathe water and swim for days without ever becoming a fish. In the same way, the Christian life is not about improving our human behavior, it is about taking on a new kind of existence. And that existence is nothing less than divine life.
 
But is our primary confession simply that we fail at being gods? As difficult as it may be to understand, this confession is closer to the point than repeatedly admitting that we’re only marginally good at being moral. One of the failures of morality is that it seems so tantalizingly possible. And so we distract ourselves as we wrestle with our morals, condemning ourselves for what we somehow
imagine that we can and should do.
 

Did Jesus Demand to be Worshipped? Larry Hurtado

 

October 8, 2013

In the continuing scholarly discussion about the origins and nature of earliest “Jesus-devotion” (my term for the reverence given to the risen/exalted Jesus in early Christian beliefs, proclamation, and worship), a question repeatedly emerges, especially from the general public:  Did Jesus demand that he be so reverenced?

In fact, not long after my book, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity appeared (Eerdmans, 2003), I was invited by the editor of Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus to address basically the question of what kind of reverence was likely offered to the “earthly” Jesus.  My article on the question appeared in the journal in 2003 (pp. 131-46):  “Homage to the Historical Jesus and Early Christian Devotion,” and was re-published as a chapter in my book, How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? (Eerdmans, 2005, pp. 134-51).

Essentially, I contend that a critical sifting of the evidence (in the NT Gospels) yields the conclusion that Jesus was treated with the sort of reverence that connoted respect for a teacher or prophet or holy man, especially by those who approached him for healing or exorcism, or for respectful dialogue over religious matters.  But there is no indication that Jesus was given the sorts or level of devotion that so quickly erupted among early circles of Jesus-believers soon after his crucifixion.  Nor is there evidence that Jesus demanded recognition as “divine” or demanded that he be given worship.  We should not expect this of a devout Jew of his time, and the evidence conforms to this expectation.
So, one might ask, if Jesus never demanded such reverence, what is the justification for it?  Why did early Jesus-believers practice such devotion to Jesus?  The answer seems to be that they held the conviction that God had exalted Jesus to an exceptional place of heavenly glory (e.g., Acts 2:36; 1 Peter 1:21), had enthroned Jesus as universal ruler (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:20-28), had declared him to be “the son of God” (e.g., Rom 1:3-4), had given Jesus to share in the divine “name” (e.g., Philippians 2:9-11), and now required that Jesus be reverenced in an unprecedented manner (e.g., John 5:23).  Indeed, these early believers appear to have felt that to refuse to give Jesus the devotion reflected in the early Christian sources would be to disobey God.

In short, the reason for treating Jesus as so central in their devotional practice was fundamentally theo-centric:  God required it.

Read more at http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/did-jesus-demand-to-be-worshipped/

That Other Nativity Story!

Did you realize there are three stories of Jesus’ birth in the New Testament?  There’s Matthew’s and there’s Luke’s and there’s . . . John’s.  No not the John of the Fourth Gospel but John the Seer of book of Revelation fame!

Yes, he too has a birth story of Jesus.  It’s found in the twelfth chapter of his visions of the “revelation” of Jesus Christ (1:1).  In it he takes us back behind the personal and historical dramas we find in Matthew and Luke (though, of course, they hint and allude to this in various ways in their stories too).  We might say that if

-the John of the Fourth Gospel takes us back to find Jesus in the eternal being of God, and  

-Matthew and Luke tell us of his actual birth from the perspectives of Joseph and Mary respectively, then

-John the Seer takes us into the heavenly realm itself and reveals the cosmic meaning of what Matthew and Luke narrate for us.  In his enigmatic (to us) imagery and lurid detail the Seer enables us to grasp at a visceral level the story in which our lives truly makes sense, the reality that we live between the D-D-Day of Jesus’ resurrection and the V-Day of his return (to use World War II imagery), who we are and what we are to do within that story, and in particular, the authority we have as the people of the Son of the Woman clothed with the Sun.  Here’s John vision:

12 Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because she was in labor, in pain from giving birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: it was a great fiery red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven royal crowns on his heads. His tail swept down a third of heaven’s stars and threw them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child. She gave birth to a son, a male child who is to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was snatched up to God and his throne. Then the woman fled into the desert, where God has prepared a place for her. There she will be taken care of for one thousand two hundred sixty days.

Then there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they did not prevail, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. So the great dragon was thrown down. The old snake, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, was thrown down to the earth; and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say,

“Now the salvation and power and kingdom of our God,
        and the authority of his Christ have come.
The accuser of our brothers and sisters,
        who accuses them day and night before our God,
        has been thrown down.
11 They gained the victory over him on account of the blood of the Lamb
        and the word of their witness.
Love for their own lives didn’t make them afraid to die.
12 Therefore, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them.
But oh! The horror for the earth and sea!
        The devil has come down to you with great rage,
            for he knows that he only has a short time.”

13 When the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he chased the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she could fly to her place in the desert. There she would be taken care of—out of the snake’s reach—for a time and times and half a time. 15 Then from his mouth the snake poured a river of water after the woman so that the river would sweep her away. 16 But the earth helped the woman. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon poured out of his mouth. 17 So the dragon was furious with the woman, and he went off to make war on the rest of her children, on those who keep God’s commandments and hold firmly to the witness of Jesus.

We live in a story of cosmic warfare! This was not God’s original intent but given our rebellion against him, God launched what I like to call a subversive counter-revolutionary movement to reclaim his creatures and creation and restore all thing to his original intent. To live as God’s people in this kind of world where we face the “fury” of the enraged but defeated dragon (v.17) means we too are caught up in this conflict.  

I know some don’t like the use of military images and metaphors because of the terrible misuse those images and metaphors have been and still sometimes are put.  However, to lose this imagery, which is pervasive in the Bible even though re-visioned for us through the nonviolent cruciform life and ministry of Jesus, is to lose the purpose, cogency, urgency, and intentionality of living for God.

In other words, living within this story of cosmic warfare won but not yet fully consolidated is living as God always meant for us to live in a world not yet fully redeemed!

We are, therefore, according to Seer John’s nativity story, those who live between the D-D-Day of Jesus’ resurrection and the V-Day of his return (to use World War II imagery).  The “fit” between this metaphor and our experience suggests its aptness. Like the Allied forces after the landing and battle of Normandy in World War II, we know we are on the winning side of this war.  The decisive battle has been fought and won (v.7-9); the outcome is no longer in doubt (D-Day/Jesus’ resurrection, v.5)). But it will be nearly a year before treaties are signed and weapons laid down in the European theater (V-Day/Jesus’ return). In between we live enmeshed in the ongoing struggles to implement Jesus’ victory in our own lives (struggle with the “flesh”), in the “world,” and with the “principalities and powers” (the “devil”; vv.13-15; Eph.6:10-20). We must remain “battle-ready,” alert, in training, and focused if we are to participate in Christ’ victory. No time for the sentimental schmaltz and nostalgia that “is” Christmas for so many within and without the church – not if we take John the Seer’s nativity story seriously!  

We find our identity and vocation with this story. V.10-12 are worth a further look on this matter.  V.10 restates the victory that is already ours and our identity as victors in Christ. Reference to the “blood of the Lamb” points to at-one-ment, the reconciliation of all things in and with God.  It’s more than simply the forgiveness of sins but reaches out to include the restoration of humanity to its primal dignity as God’s children and royal representatives and its original vocation, caring for one another and the creation as priests in the temple of God’s creation.  This restoration underwrites our call and capacity to live as God desires us to live.

God through Christ has defeated and cast down the enemy, the great serpent, the devil.  His accusatory work which held us all in bondage heretofore has had the branch on which it sat sawed off by Jesus Christ.  His lies and illusions had been unveiled for what they are for all to see.  He has no more power over us but that which we, tragically, give him.  As long as we remember, internalize, and cling to the story we are caught up in, the time we live in, our identity and vocation in and through Christ, devilish lies and deceptions will roll off our backs and will not hinder us in the least.

On the ground of our reconciliation and restoration we go forth as faithful participants in the struggle, bearing witness to what Jesus has accomplished. The boldness we demonstrate in such witnessing is born of utter confidence in Jesus as the one God raised from the dead to live forevermore and over whom death no longer has any hold. Lives given for him, even poured out to death on his behalf, become pointer to the sovereign love that made them possible.  Death is not a defeat for us and God, but has been transformed into a most luminous witness that draws others into God’s kingdom.

In v.17 John adds to the witness of Jesus “keeping God’s commandments” as a description of what God’s people do. Part and parcel of participating in God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement is to live in such a way that our “warfare” is coextensive with living as God originally designed humanity to live!

Finally, we learned here that we have authority, authority to live and love, serve and sacrifice as members of the family God called to use as his instrument to spread his blessings throughout the world.

As people who live under the attack of the defeated but not fully pacified powers and by the cruciform pattern of Jesus and wage their battle with only the “violence of love” (Oscar Romero), cannot but celebrate Christmas with the joy of an oppressed people who hear the good news of a regime change!  This call changes life for all who embrace it.  It is a disturbing, profound challenge to the status quo and is not without its own dangers, disciplines, and demands.  Yet its promise far outweighs its cost and in taking up its call to “arms” (nonviolent, of course) we delightedly discover that this life in God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement is what we were meant for all along!

The joy of hearing this divine call, the realization that God “takes sides” in this world (remember Mary’s Magnificat) and the realism that’s its interface with the world will often be conflictual, even mortally dangerous, generates a way of facing that world that in good Jewish fashion holds together unblinking reality at the same time as extravagant hope.

In our world, so torn and riven with oppression, injustice, and war, living as this Revelation 12 people means we celebrate Christmas with a joy that refuses sentimentality and nostalgia and a realism that knows the undeniable present distress has been judged and is passing away.  Both such joy and such realism mark our worship and service of the crucified and risen Lamb.

Here is a sample written by J. Daniel Kirk that captures a Revelation 12 perspective on our lives and service in God’s world.

A Corporate Confession and Prayer for Peace (http://www.jrdkirk.com/2014/07/28/liturgy-peace/)

We gather in the name of the God of Peace
May grace and peace be ours from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
We gather in the name of the Prince of Peace
The one who says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.”
We gather in the Spirit
Who is our life and our bond of peace.

May peace be upon this place
May we be found worthy, that this blessing might to rest upon us.
Give light to those who sit in darkness and the valley of the shadow of death
To guide our feet into the way of peace
Open our eyes, Lord,
So that we might know the things which make for peace

We confess that we have not been peacemakers
But have sought our own good rather than the good of our neighbor
We confess that we have not been agents of your goodness and grace
But have looked out for our own interests rather than the interests of others
Gracious God, forgive us, your beloved children
In the name of Jesus, extend to us your reconciling peace
May we yearn for peace within our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in San Francisco
May this desire bear fruit in our lives through initiatives of love.

Mother of the world, and of all those who live within it,
You have reconciled this world to yourself in Christ
While were yet enemies, aligning ourselves against you,
You gave your Son Jesus to die for us, that we might be at peace with You
Teach us how to live into the reconciliation created by Christ
So that we might learn what it is to be reconciled to one another

We confess that in our desire for peace, we often assume the postures of conflict
We have taken sides and set up ourselves as judges
We have listened to one side of the story,
And decided in its favor without waiting for the voice we have not heard
We have yearned for victory
And have believed that one side must lose for the other to win
We have seen the conflicts in the world, spurred on by an economy of scarcity
And we have not allowed the upside down economy of your Kingdom’s
abundance to create fresh vision for a world suffused with peace.

Hear our cry on behalf of the Palestinians:
may they know the fullness of life that you have created this world to provide
May they know absence of war
So that they might have hope for their children
May they know freedom upon their own land
So that they might know the dignity of fruitful work
May they know security in their homes
So that they might remember the value of their precious human lives.

Hear our cry on behalf of the Israelis:
may they know the fullness of life that you have created this world to provide
May they know peace upon their own land
So that they might raise their children in a place free from fear.
We pray for the peace of Jerusalem
May they prosper who love her
For the sake of sisters and brothers of all faiths who live within her walls,
We say: “May peace be within her.”

You have promised, O God, that love and faithfulness will meet
That justice and peace will kiss each other.
As your justice and peace kissed in the reconciling love of Jesus,
May we see in the world the joining of justice and peace
Make faithfulness spring up from even the desert ground,
And may righteousness rain down from the sky
Make a way of life in the midst of the desert
Where it seems that only death will reign.
Yours is the Kingdom of extravagant abundance,
And so we ask for vision to see how there is enough for all.

As we cast our eyes around the globe,
we confess that our nation is not innocent.
As we mourn the deaths in Gaza,
our own nation’s war in Afghanistan has cost lives this very week
While we protest the aggressions of our allies
we turn away thousands who come to us for safety and comfort

Forgive us, Father above, for we have confused the absence of war at home for the presence of peace.

Of old you warned the people who called themselves yours,
But were greedy for gain at any cost.
Of old you warned those who did not attend to the wound of your people
But said, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace.
Of old you warned your people not to rest in unjustly gained security,
And summoned us to be ashamed when we failed in justice and love.
Of old you warned your people not to speak falsely in your name,
And to hold our tongues from saying “peace,” where there is no peace.
Of old you warned your people, not to build up diving walls,
Or to white-wash them with in the name of the Lord.

And so, when we build,
May we build on the foundation of the reconciling love of Jesus.
And so, when we speak,
May our speech be seasoned with salt, to give grace to those who hear
And so when we seek security,
May we pursue it for those who are truly insecure:
For the alien at our borders,
For the civilian at the other ends of our guns,
Even for those whom we have labeled enemies.

Through the work of your son, Jesus, make us blessed peacemakers
So that we might be called children of God.
May our light of making peace upon the earth so shine before people
That they might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven

Silent Meditation

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21 NRS)

This litany breathes the spirit of Revelation 12 and betokens a people committed to living as God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement. It also cries “Merry Christmas” to a world whose hopes and fears were met in Bethlehem that first Christmas night and every night since whenever more and people embrace this call of “that other nativity story”!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ten propositions on Karl Barth: theologian

Friday, 10 November 2006

by Kim Fabricius

1. Karl Barth was a Reformed theologian. Sounds like a no-brainer. And, yes, fundamental motifs of Barth’s theology have a definite Reformed pedigree – e.g., the glory, majesty, and grace of God; the primacy of the Word in Holy Scripture; the polemic against idolatry; the doctrine of election; the relationship between gospel and law; sanctification. But for Barth, the Reformed tradition was not so much a body of doctrine as a habit of mind. Observe that Barth got himself up to speed with Reformed dogmatics only after he had become famous for his two editions of Romans and taken up a lectureship at Göttingen. His was a theologia reformata only as it was also a theologia semper reformanda. His conversations with his Reformed forefathers, while deferential, were always critical. And the doctrines he inherited he always re-worked with daring and imagination.

2. Karl Barth was an ecumenical theologian. While recognising that theology is always confessional – there is no Archimedean point, you’ve got to stand and start somewhere – Barth insisted that the intentio theologiae must be catholic. His net was broad, its mesh tight, and he cast it far and wide: the magisterial Reformers, of course, but also the Fathers West and East, the medieval schoolmen, the Protestant scholastics, the nineteenth century liberals. Barth had a vibrant belief in the communio sanctorum, and could echo Faulkner: “The past is not dead. It is not even past.” The universal church was Barth’s oyster, and he found pearls (as well as grit!) throughout its history. His Catholic colleague at Basel Hans Urs von Balthasar paid Barth the ultimate compliment when he said that his friend was “a theologian and not a reformer.”

3. Karl Barth was an ecclesial theologian. When Barth began his writing and teaching career, theology was in captivity to the university. His teacher Adolf Harnack was aghast at his student’s cavalier attitude to the academically respectable historical-critical method, and his liberal peers dismayed by their colleague’s hostility to apologetics. However, for Barth, theology is the servant of the church, “called to perform the simple task of being the place where the church evaluates its own proclamation against its given norm, revelation” (John Webster). Hence Barth’s mature theology settled into the form of Church Dogmatics. The German title is Die kirchliche Dogmatik, which (George Hunsinger observes) might just as accurately be rendered Ecclesial Theology. And as the heart of the church is worship, so the soul of theology is prayer. For Barth, we can only talk about God because and as we talk to God.

4. Karl Barth was an exegetical theologian. Barth’s theology began in preaching; it is a homiletical theology. Indeed William Willimon suggests that no one “should venture to interpret Barth who is not a preacher.” And while Barth said that “preaching is exposition, not exegesis,” it certainly begins in exegesis, which he understood as the prayerful attentiveness to “the strange new world of the Bible.” Although Barth moved from the pulpit in Safenwil to the lectern in Göttingen, Münster, Bonn, and finally Basel, and preached very little until the end of his career, exegesis lay at the heart of his dogmatic enterprise. It is not surprising, therefore, that some readers of CD skip the large print altogether and go for the fine print of Barth’s close yet creative readings of scripture. Barth would be horrified at the widespread biblical illiteracy in today’s church, and were he suddenly to appear in our midst, his first words to us would no doubt be his last words to his students at Bonn before he departed for Basel in 1935: “Exegesis, exegesis, and yet more exegesis!”

5. Karl Barth was a moral theologian. For Barth, the imperative of ethics is inextricably connected to the indicative of dogmatics. In announcing who he is, God tells us what to do. But for Barth the moral life is not rule-based, nor even biblicist: dogmatically mediated and contextually located, it is, above all, a matter of prayerful and thoughtful discernment. Nor is obedience a burden, indeed it is perfect freedom: it is gospel precisely as law. And it begins in gratitude: “Grace,” Barth said, “evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.” Barth would have agreed with Blake: “The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” He would also have had some sympathy with Blake’s radical politics! For Barth there was no such thing as a purely personal ethics; as a moral theologian he was, ipso facto, a political theologian. The author of the Barmen Declaration declared: “A silent community, merely observing the events of the time, would not be a Christian community.” And while the “Red pastor” of Safenwil knew that the left often gets it wrong, he mischievously suggested that conservatives rarely get it right.