Let’s start the work week off with a prayer. The following is Walter Breuggemann’s, and I used it last week in conjunction with my teaching on the divine attributes. I am challenged every time I approach that topic with students for various reasons, not least of which because it is (undoubtedly) an area of Christian theology requiring great humility. The theologian finds themselves in a territory of Christian confession in which terms and appellates for God are lying ready at hand: love, power, mercy, knowledge, etc. Yet, in taking up and employing such terms what does one expect from them, and what is the reference point one uses for filling out their meaning? The risk is sharp that we unintentionally make God out into a bigger, stronger, version of ourselves, that without some care we find ourselves speaking about God by speaking about ourselves in a really loud voice.
In the face of such challenges, Brueggemann reminds us that the triune God “shows himself yet fresh beyond our grasp”:
We call out your name in as many ways as we can. We fix your role towards us in the ways we need. We approach your from the particular angle of our life.
We do all that, not because you need to be identified, but because of our deep need, our deep wound, our deep hope.
And then, we are astonished that while our names for you serve for a moment, you break beyond them in your freedom, you show yourself yet fresh beyond our grasp. Continue reading
Not long ago I preached on the Lord’s Prayer, actually just its first line: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6.10). And I explored the question, “What is required of us to pray this?”
You can read a little of the sermon below, and I would be happy for your thoughts and interaction, but let me highlight first a couple resources I found quite rich. Telford Work’s book Ain’t Too Proud to Beg was a happy surprise and the most engaging book on the Lord’s prayer that I have read. Timothy Bradshaw’s Praying as Believing: The Lord’s Prayer and the Doctrine of God has not received the attention it deserves (small British publisher), yet it is a great example of first rate theology written for the church. Brueggemann’s collection of prayers, Awed to Heaven: Rooted to Earth, echo the same impulse I see in the Lord’s prayer, an impulse that jostles me out of complacency toward a living awareness of the drastic incompleteness of the “time between the times”. A time that requires us to pray with grace and impatience.
To speak of God’s “grace” is to put feeble words in the service of describing the infinite goodness and love of God which reaches out to his creatures prior to their own reaching (Ephesians 2:4-5; Romans 5:8). To speak of God’s grace is to speak of God’s capacity to initiate and complete his work of restoring a broken world and reconciling alienated people. As the kingdom of grace, it does not come because we pull it into the world, but because God unceasingly works toward its consummation with Christ’s return.
Yet, we get the wrong picture altogether if we forget the unique shape of God’s ongoing activity. God chose to create a world in which his ordinary, inadequate creatures – you and me – are invited to participate in the drama of God’s kingdom activity. He invites us to discover and play our role, a role that always follows after at a distance, but a genuine role nonetheless.
So we might say this: Continue reading
We have been exploring the inner life of the theologian (and the theological student) from various angles over the last couple months. Most recently, James challenged us to consider Lent a season for ‘setting aside’ areas of our calling in order that we might take them up again in renewed awareness of their dedication to God. Toward this end, James is setting aside scholarship (and TF) for Lent because, ‘I can sit and think all day about God without ever really thinking about God.’
For the same reason, I began praying the daily offices, or ‘divine hours’, at the turn of the year (Morning, Midday, Vespers, and Compline). I found the rythms of my days dictated entirely by my research and writing and, like James, I could almost entirely forget God in the midst of theology. So I began using Phyllis Tickle’s seasonal guide to praying the daily offices in order that a rhythm of dialogue with God might order my day rather than my self-prescribed schedule. I have found it both refreshing and frustrating.
Why frustrating? Continue reading
There is a sense where this question is obvious. Of course theologians should be spiritual, shouldn’t everyone? But the question is a bit deeper than this. In taking upon oneself the task of being a theologian under the Word, for the church, is part of the task holiness? In so doing, we will be asking a further question, namely, does personal holiness in any way affect the quality of theology?
I will do a handful of these posts looking at this question as somewhat of a follow up to my previous post on the seven deadly spiritual sins for theologians. In this post, I will look at Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Word and Redemption to see what insight Balthasar has for this question.
The Great Divide: Theology and Spirituality
Balthasar starts his chapter entitled “Theology and Sanctity” with: Continue reading
Karl Barth, Fifty Prayers. Translated by David Carl Stassen (London/Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 63 pp.+xii, $10.36.
Lord, our God, you know who we are: People with good and bad consciences; satisfied and dissatisfied, sure and unsure people; Christians out of conviction and Christians out of habit; believers, half-believers, and unbelievers…But now we all stand before you: in all our inequality equal in this, that we are all in the wrong before you and among each other…but also in that your grace is promised to and turned toward all of us through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ (p. 1).
So begins the first of fifty prayers by Karl Barth in this delightful little collection by Westminster John Knox. With the exception of a few unprinted prayers, those here are taken from Karl Barth, Predigten 1954-1967, third edition (Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2003) which reissued them from two earlier volumes long out of print, Fürchte dich nicht and Dem Defangenen Befreiung. Although I did not cross check all of them, at least one of the Pentecost prayers was previously translated and published with twelve others in Prayer:50th Anniversary Edition (Westminster John Knox, 2002).
From his 1962 forward to Fürchte dich nicht, Barth describes his longstanding dislike for liturgy and all manner of worship formalities. The formalism and distance in language between the liturgy and the modern worshipper both chaffed and prompted him to begin replacing the prayers of the liturgy with those of his own crafting. Continue reading
If Molinism was a TV show I think it would be Quantum Leap. Ok, a few adjustments would have to be made here and there (and ‘by a few’, I mean a lot and by ‘here and there’, I mean everywhere).
According to Molinism, people act with complete freedom, yet God has knowledge of the future and this future only comes into being through divine and human actions. In fact, Molinism proposes that before time God had perfect knowledge of every possible world and the outcomes included within that existence and chose our world based on the decisions and actions we would make. Still following?
Molinism is the attempt to reconcile the absolute autonomy of the creature, on the one hand, and God’s sovereignty, on the other. While Luis de Molina was a sixteenth century Spanish Jesuit, his ideas are alive and well and can be found in the work of contemporary thinkers like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, so we cannot simply shed this belief as something expired.
The question remains: How exactly is this reconciliation between human autonomy and divine sovereignty accomplished for the Molinist? Continue reading
We begin our discussion on Providence and its implications for Christian prayer with the “semi-deist” model.
On this model, God created an orderly universe, placed people in it, and allows them to exercise their God-given libertarian freedom in morally responsible ways. He gives people the intelligence needed to gain an understanding of both the physical and moral order he established and he expects them to act wisely and harmoniously with those “laws” of nature. In this well-ordered system, God doesn’t intervene to protect some people from harm because he would responsible for allowing others to suffer if he did.
God is certainly not inactive; rather, the history and progress of the universe is one big act of God and within that act (history as a whole) creatures operate and bear complete responsibility for their actions.
God can’t be responsible for Evil. Can he?
On a fundamental level the semi-deist view is driven by moral concerns. On this model, if we assume God’s involvement in the details of our everyday lives then we must also assume his direct involvement in evil: “One person’s providence is another person’s downfall” (Maurice Wiles, “Divine Action: Some Moral Considerations”, 1994).
If God can influence the course of events, then a God who is willing to cure colds and provide parking spaces but is not willing to prevent Auschwitz and Hiroshima is morally repugnant. Continue reading