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Showing posts from September, 2012

Words for worship: Submitting to God’s mercy and imprisoning!

Preaching to inmates in a prison chapel service, the elderly guest preacher began with what may seem a puzzling verse from the Bible. “God has made all men prisoners of disobedience, so that he may have mercy on all.”

It was fifty-five years ago this month (September,1957), and the guest speaker who based his sermon on Romans 11:32 that day was the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth, arguably one of the most important voices in theology since the Protestant Reformation. Barth was invited to speak at the prison in Basil, Switzerland from time to time, and 18 of his sermons were published in Deliverance to the Captives (1961, Harper & Brothers).

Admitting the verse is not easy to understand, Barth began by saying it is best understood when starting from the second phrase—with the affirmation ‘that he may have mercy upon all’.  Barth said that those who know Jesus 
“...know it is imperative to begin at all times in our thoughts and in our life with him....just as the alphabet has no oth…

Ethics and cultural context

Rather than taking a "shoot from the hip," sloganeering approach toward Christian ethics, we need a biblically-faithful approach that carefully considers which of the Bible's commands (ethical imperatives) are culturally limited (applicable only within certain cultural contexts) and which are trans-cultural (applicable universally). At times, such considerations are not difficult. For example, it is fairly obvious that some of the Old Testament's purity laws are applicable only within the context of Israel's Temple worship system. However, there are instances when such considerations are not so obvious.

Divorce Consider the issue of divorce. When asked about it, Jesus noted that the Law of Moses permitted divorce, but only as a concession to human weakness (Mat 19:1-9). God's ultimate will for marriage is that it be permanent "one flesh" union broken only by death. That being so, we are left asking, should remarriage following divorce be allowed in …

Ethics and the Holy Spirit as Redeemer

This post concludes our review of Karl Barth's essay on Christian ethics, The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life. We looked last time at the Spirit as Reconciler. This time we'll look at the Spirit as Redeemer.

As Redeemer, the Holy Spirit helps us to experience now our redemption in Christ, though its fullness will not be ours until our resurrection in glory. Thus the Holy Spirit's work as Redeemer is as the Spirit of the Promise. And so we come to the subject of eschatology (last things). Barth comments on the Spirit's role in revealing to us the future fullness of the redemption that is ours in Christ:
In his revelation [of our redemption] he promises...a future that is a starting point... Characteristic of this promise is its reference to the reality of death, in the shadows of which we now and here exist: it gives a new quality to this state of our existence. Finality and futurity from the Beyond of our existence is the peculiar quality of God's purpose with …

Ethics and the Holy Spirit as Reconciler

This post continues a series on Christian ethics (click here for a list of posts in the series). Most recently, we've been reviewing an essay by Karl Barth that details how the ministry of the Holy Spirit relates to what he refers to as "the Christian life." 

Last time we looked at what Barth says about the Spirit as Creator. This time we'll look at what he says about the Spirit as Reconciler, working to make us "fit for God" (p20).

The Holy Spirit does this work by coming against the evil that keeps humanity from being open to God. In particular he comes against our greatest sin, which is unbelief. According to Barth, our unbelief flows from an innate "hostility toward grace" (p20)--a sinful disposition toward God himself, which the Apostle John refers to as "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). Barth comments:
We must understand the Holy Spirit...as not simply some sort of spirit like the spirit of the true, the good, the beautiful, but as being…

Ethics and the Holy Spirit as Creator

Karl Barth, lecturing in Germany in 1929, set out his Trinitarian understanding of Christian ethics. The lecture is reproduced in a book bearing the title of the lecture: The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life.

In the lecture, Barth grounded Christian ethics (the Christian life) not in human reasoning concerning what is right or wrong (even when that reasoning references Scripture), but in the life and love of the tri-personal God, and specifically in what the Holy Spirit is doing to unite us to the life of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. 
Thus, for Barth, ethics is first and foremost about who God is and what he is doing. Then, and only then, is it about our understanding of the human situation.
Barth divided his lecture into three parts coinciding with the Holy Spirit's three ministry emphases: as Creator, as Reconciler and as Redeemer. Concerning this division, Robin Lovin, in the book's forward, notes that it "is more than a convenient organizational device.&…