The word of God is not for sale; and therefore it has no need of shrewd salesmen. The word of God is not seeking patrons; therefore it refuses price cutting and bargaining; therefore it has no need of middlemen. The word of God does not compete with other commodities which are being offered to men on the bargain counter of life. It does not care to be sold at any price. It only desires to be its own genuine self, without being compelled to suffer alterations and modifications…It will, however, not stoop to overcome resistance with bargain counter methods. Promoters’ success are sham victories; their crowded churches and the breathlessness of their audiences have nothing in common with the word of God.
Posts Tagged ‘Karl Barth’
Posted in Church Ministry, Cultural Commentary, Theology, tagged Christianity, David F. Wells, discipleship, Jesus Christ, Karl Barth, Kingdom of God, Os Guinness, philosophy, Religion, truth on August 6, 2008 | 1 Comment »
It wasn’t long ago that I read in Os Guinness’ book The Call these important words:
Our challenge is not just to see the mistakes of a previous generation, obvious because not ours, but to see as well the problem of our own time, far closer and therefore harder to see.
Those words have hung with me now for months. I’ve contemplated them as I’ve considered my own place in time, my place in the church, and my position in the world. I’ve heard different assessments of the time that we live in, from doomsday prophecy to pronouncements that there has been no better time to be alive. I’ve wondered if there is a posture that can assign proper gravity to the pitfalls of our era while upholding the true marvels of our age. To do so would not be easy, and would require serious, deep thinking, careful discernment, and humility in spirit.
My thoughts on this matter have been furthered by the recent completion of David F. Wells’ book No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? The book is full of challenges. Wells depicts contemporary evangelical faith as quite bankrupt. He is amazed that theology has in large measure disappeared from evangelical thought, and has passed away with little notice. His book chronicles the shift which has occurred as churches have become professionalized in their ministries, with seminaries pushing the trend. The church’s institutions of higher learning have become more focused on equipping pastors to be friendly personalities and effective conflict managers, and have left them devoid of the ability to think biblically and theologically about how they might lead. Pastors serve the role of psychologists and managers, addressing felt needs, soothing damaged egos, and managing congregations according to the direction of popular opinion. His observations apply mainly to the church in North America. He notes different trends which have taken place over the past 100 years, such as the decreasing tenure of many pastors. He claims this has had the effect of depersonalizing the ministry and removing the pastor’s connection to any particular place, making it difficult for the pastor to have an incarnational ministry. The book ends with a thundering challenge for the reclamation of theology and an open invitation for dialogue on how people called “Christian” speak concerning truth and error.
On the other extreme, as I have mentioned, have been those (all voices I’ve heard in the U.S.) who claim that all is well, and in fact, the world has never been better. This has been a direct counter in North American Christianity to the widespread perception that the world is soon coming to an end. I find this a bit hard to swallow. This reaction reminds me of the words found in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, “They have healed the brokenness of my people superficially saying, “Peace, Peace,” but there is no peace.” (Jer. 6:14)
Yes, technological wonders abound. Medicine has advanced beyond what might have been imaginable over the last 100 years. Transportation is now incredibly diverse and easy–from North America we can travel anywhere in the world. And the internet has put everything at our doorstep. We have some wonderful and incredible stuff at which we can marvel, which, when used responsibly, can increase enjoyment of life.
On the other hand, the last century has seen two World Wars, outbreaks of genocide, and the development of the most deadly weapons produced in human history. We’ve seen some of this centuries most notable philosophers wrestle with deep existential angst, questioning the meaning of existence and whether or not life is worthwhile. The thought of Camus and Sarte are good examples of philosophers whose existentialism reveal deep despair. As for other issues, poverty is still very real. Racism is still a plague. Things are better, sure, but it seems we still have work to do–as will be true throughout this age.
What to do in the meantime? As a person who calls Jesus “Lord,” I believe that we exist in “the time between the times.” Jesus has been raised, signaling the onset of a new age. The church waits patiently for his return. ”Come, Lord Jesus” remains our prayer. As we wait, we are called to participate in the Kingdom of God as disciples, declaring allegiance to our King who is Jesus. Discipleship to Jesus will entail an adjustment of vision, which will enable his followers to both see and exist truthfully within the world. This will include the demythologization of the times in which we live, naming the powers and principalities which stand in opposition to life in the Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God cannot be established by our own efforts, as Karl Barth rightly asserted. It must be patiently waited for and received. I’m not claiming that waiting is easy. I’m not claiming that while I wait “all is well” or “the world is going to hell.” My theological perspective leads me to look for those places where God is remaking, renewing, and redeeming our world. I’m trying to acknowledge those places in our world where the Reign of God is being made manifest, while going to places of pain where the Kingdom of God needs to be announced. It seems as though life following after Jesus requires that I attempt to do both, striving with the community called Church to assess the times we live in a manner which we humbly submit is truthful.
Prayer is a discipline.
My experiences with prayer have varied. When I was a young child I was instructed how to pray, both in form and posture. Folding my hands, closing my eyes, bowing my head, I addressed God as Father, or spoke to Jesus, and acknowledged the goodness which I had experienced in my life. I may have addressed the Holy Spirit, but that aspect of Trinitarian language was not central. I would thank God for my family, my friends, the blue sky, the green grass. I’ll never forget how my brother used to thank God for apple juice at the dinner table. I would ask God to heal those I knew were sick, or be with those people whom I loved. Prayer was described as a conversation with God, part listening, part speaking. Along with Bible study and church attendance, prayer completed the tri-fecta of disciplines which made up the Christian life during my earliest years.
As I have grown older the number of disciplines with which I am familiar has expanded. This is largely in part to Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines. Even with this expanded set of practices, I cannot help but recognize the primacy of prayer. This is largely because in a significant way I find it difficult to do–that is, to pray. There are times when I just can’t find words to pray. So I don’t. Or I sit, and I listen.
Prayer has always been easier for me in community. Why this is so I cannot say, but when I pray alongside other Christian people I am able to experience the presence of God. I am also able to invoke the words of Scripture and words from song and liturgy, weaving together wonderful speech which I have been taught. Thank God for both the words of Scripture and the words of poets, song writers, and liturgists who have provided truthful speech which I can employ in prayer.
I have engaged myself in much theological conversation, much reading, much Bible study, and much Christian service. These are the things that keep us busy. I confess that I have not been engaged enough in the practice of prayer. Such a practice is important for many reasons. Prayer is the place where we connect with God, are provided with vision, and deepen the nature of our understanding. We are able to reflect on God as Trinity, on the church, and the state of our own souls. We are able to engage in intercession, praying for others’ well-being, and that the conditions here would be “on earth as it is in heaven.” Through prayer, it is hoped that we might also widen our ability to love in a manner consistent with the person of Jesus Christ.
This week I read Karl Barth’s Prayer. Following Barth’s treatment of the Lord’s Prayer, the book includes a small sampling of pastoral prayers written by this great theologian. Barth prays:
O Sovereign God, through Jesus Christ your Son you have humbled yourself in order to exalt us. You became poor to make us rich. You suffered and died, and in so doing gave us freedom and life. And this eternal mercy and good news displays your might and majesty as our Creator and Lord, the glory in which we praise you and in the light of which we may live all the days you give us. For this we thank you.
And in thanking you, we can come to you aright. We are able to spread out before you all that to our understanding seems hard and perplexing and in need of your care. In your mercy remember us all and be merciful to us, now and forever, for without you we can do nothing.
Have mercy on our church on earth in its division and dispersion, its weakness and its error.
Have mercy on the old and the young, on unbelievers far and near, on the godless and idolators who have not, or have not yet, heard your name in truth. Have mercy on the governments and the peoples of this earth, on their perplexity as they search for peace and righteousness, and also on the confusion in our human endeavors in science, nurture, and education, and on all the difficulties in so many marriages and families.
Have mercy on the countless persons who today suffer starvation, the many who are persecuted and homeless, the sick in body and soul here and in other places, the lonely, prisoners, and all those who suffer punishment at the hands of others.
Have mercy on us all in the hour of trial and the hour of death. Lord, because we believe with certainty that you have overcome, and that with you we too have already overcome, we call upon you now. Show us but the first step of the road to freedom, won at such cost. Amen. (69-70)
What great words. Reading such words remind me that the work of the theologian must be immersed in prayer. Because it is not only the scholar but also the laity and the clergy who are engaged in the practice of theology, Barth serves as a great example. From the greatest to the least of us, we are all called to pray. And through prayer we might come to think God-honoring thoughts and express them in ways that are truthful to God’s story. Prayer also makes us aware of God’s reality as revealed through Jesus Christ and the practices of the church, as “Prayer takes place in liturgical time and thereby challenges the presumption that there exists no other time but the time of historical succession. To pray means that there is another time known through liturgical repetition that is made possible and necessary by the reality of the Kingdom of God”(Hauerwas, The State of the University, 183).
It is my hope that Christians of all stripes, from laity, to pastors, to theologians, would engage regularly in the practice of prayer. By doing so our witness is strengthened, the church is built up, and our vision is clarified. Instead of declaring that the future of the church is bleak, remember that prayer is one of the many abundant resources which God has provided for us across time to nourish, equip, and strengthen us as the people of God who only need enough space in the world to witness to the fact that God so loved the world he gave his Son for it.