“In raising up this particular form [of Christ crucified], this particular presence, God judges the visible orders of the world, subjects them to a new and intense radiance that pierces all the trappings and beguilements of power; a murdered slave is the eternal Word of the Father, whom the Father vindicates and makes victorious, and is the supreme rhetoric that unveils the squalor and deceits of the rhetoric of violence. The scale of the reversal cannot be exaggerated: when Jesus stands before Pilate for the last time, beaten, derided, robed in purple and crowned with thorns, he must seem, from the vantage of all the noble wisdom of the empire and the age (which wisdom Nietzsche sought to resuscitate), merely absurd, a ridiculous figure prating incomprehensibly of an otherworldly kingdom and some undefined truth, obviously mad, oblivious of the lowliness of his state and of the magnitude of the powers into whose hands he has been delivered. But in the light of the resurrection, from the perspective of Christianity’s inverted order of vision, the mockery now redounds upon all kings and emperors, whose finery and symbols of status are revealed to be nothing more than rags and brambles beside the majesty of God’s Son, beside this servile shape in which God displays his infinite power to be where he will be; all the rulers of the earth cannot begin to surpass in grandeur this beauty of the God who ventures forth to make even the dust his glory. There is a special Christian humor here, a special kind of Christian irreverence: in Rome the emperor is now as nothing, a garment draped over the shoulders of a slave and then cast aside. Christianity is indeed a creed for slaves, but in neither the subtle Hegelian nor the crude Nietzschean sense: in contrast to Hegel and Nietzsche - to dialectic and diatribe alike - Christian faith speaks of the slave as God’s glory, the one who lies farthest out in the far country, to whom tidings of joy are sent from before the foundation of the world, and from whom the free and infinite God cannot be separated by any distance, certainly not that between the high and low, because he is the distance of all things. Indeed, the beauty of God reveals itself with its most incandescent intensity among those who suffer, who are as children, who are powerless, because - for all they lack - the ultimate privation of violence often has not entered into them, for the simple reason that they do not occupy the position of coercive force. Not that the weak are not sinners, or that spite and cruelty cannot make even of weakness a weapon, but nevertheless, the weakness of sinners is the strength of God, and when he dwells among the suffering, God is most truly known as the God he is.”—David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite
“The intelligibility (and hence the persuasiveness) of Christian faith springs not from independently formulated criteria, but from compelling renditions, faithful performances.”—James Fodor and Stanley Hauerwas. (via giftsoutright)
“Faith as such cannot contribute anything to our justification: bringing nothing of our own to procure the grace of God. It is not a habitus. It is not a quality of grace which is infused into man. Faith does not justify by virtue of being a work which we do. If we believe, we come to God quite empty, not bringing to God any dignity or merit. God has to close his eyes to the feebleness of our faith, as indeed He does. He does not justify us on account of some excellence which it has in itself; only in virtue of what it lacks as a human work does He justify man. For that reason there is no point in inquiring as to the completeness of our faith. Exegetes who understand the reckoned of Gen 15.6 as follows: Abraham has been reckoned righteous, and that belief in God was a virtue which he possessed are condemned by Calvin quite freely and frankly: those dogs must be an absolute abomination to us, for these are the most enormous blasphemies which Satan could vomit forth. As if there were nothing worse than this confusion! And, indeed, according to the fresh Reformation understanding of the Pauline justification by faith there could not be anything worse than this confusion. It is clear that if faith was to be a virtue, a power and an achievement of man, and if as such it was to be called a way of salvation, then the way was opened up for the antinomian and libertarian misunderstanding, the belief that a dispensation from all other works was both permitted and commanded. And the objection of Roman critics was only too easy, that in the Reformation sola fide this one human virtue, power and achievement was wildly over-estimated at the expense of all others. Even at the present day there is still cause most definitely to repudiate this misinterpretation, for which the Pauline text is not in any sense responsible.”—Barth, CD IV.1, 617
i used to think there were only two options for life: burning bright into the dying of the light, or sitting quietly to the side, snuffed out by the cares of life. now i am seeing all the middle places, the flickering candles, the fragile ones, the ones keeping vigil, praying, fasting, singing songs of truth, teaching, believing, creating.
but of course everything about Jesus is so upside-down, so the third way, eschewing the false dichotomies we create in order to love or loathe ourselves. he chooses the half-burnt out, the emptied, the white-knuckled.
“A sacramental view of the world sees all things as part of God’s good creation, potential signs of the glory of God; things become less disposable, more filled with meaning. At the same time, a sacramental view sees things only as signs whose meaning is only completely fulfilled if they promote the good of communion with God and with other people.”—William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (via verilyisayuntothee)
“[Jonathan] Edwards argued that if our highest love is our family, we will ultimately choose our family’s good over the good of other families. If our highest love is our nation, we will choose our nation’s interest and ignore those of other countries. If our highest love is our own individual interest, we will choose to serve ourselves over seeking to meet the needs of others. Only if our highest love is God Himself, can we love and serve all people, families, classes, races, and only God’s saving grace can bring us to the place where we are loving and serving God for Himself alone and not for what He can give us.”—Timothy Keller Center Church, Chapter 5 (via digitalpreacher)
“I want to suggest to you that our culture’s quest for power is based on a fundamental mistake. That fundamental mistake is laid bare in the opening chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, where we read about power but we also read about something more significant than power. The problem with power is not just that power over death, which is the goal of all quests for power, is and will remain out of our reach – although that is true. The problem is that our quest for power, and for the eternal life we hope that power will bring, is one colossal detour from the quest that we were really made for and the gift that God truly offers us. This accumulation of power is one enormous insurance policy against there being no God. But the insurance policy fails because it’s powerless to deliver eternal life – which is the one thing we need it for. And what God offers us more than anything else isn’t power. What God offers us is glory.”—Sam Wells, sermon preached at Duke Chapel, November 3, 2013. (via invisibleforeigner)
“As a Christian I came to see the importance of the Exodus story, with its movement from death to life and from bondage to worship, as the foundation of the story of Jesus and the New Testament. These are not two separate stories, but one whole story. They are both stories of God’s encounter with Death as a power in the world, and God’s will and work for Life, restored and made new according to God’s creation design. The Exodus story of bondage and freedom and the New Testament story of death and resurrection are the two great primal narratives of scripture. All else builds from these.”—Anthony B. Robinson, The Book of Exodus: a God is Still Speaking Bible Study (via catechumenate)
Even were I not a Baptist, though, I am not sure I could say ‘happy Reformation day’. Surely if Reformation day is to be marked, it should be only partly, at most, in celebration? The church was split, not reformed, by Luther’s intervention. Of course, the recovery and foregrounding of crucial gospel truths should be remembered (and yes, justification sola fide is at least a, if not the, ‘articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae’…) – but is Reformation Day not as much a time to mourn our divisions, to fast and pray that all who are baptised in the triune Name may together confess one Lord, one faith, and one gospel, and share one Eucharist around one table?
‘Happy Reformation Day’ sounds to me like saying ‘Happy Ash Wednesday’ – it is just the wrong salutation.
I recently experienced an extraordinary week, liturgically speaking. I had not expected ever to see its like again.
On a weekday at a lovely country church in Virginia, I (along with a very large gathering) attended the funeral of one of our old friends, an outstanding churchman and servant of the Lord. Arriving early, I sat down to read the program. I could hardly believe my eyes. There were no “reflections,” no “remembrances,” no “eulogies.” There were hymns, Scripture, prayers, the Creed, the commendation…nothing more. I looked again. At the top of the program it did not say “the celebration of the life of…” It said, “The Burial of the Dead, Rite One, Book of Common Prayer.” At my age (76), with thoughts of the end of life becoming more frequent, it was an almost inexpressible comfort to know that this great service still has a future and that not everyone is afraid of the burial of the dead.
When the actual coffin rolled in, my eyes filled…it has been so long since I have seen that happen. It was preceded by the rector, of course, reading the traditional verses, and the large family followed. The hymns had been chosen by the deceased man himself, and reflected both his love of Jesus and his faith in the resurrection. The Gospel reading was the raising of Lazarus, an unusual and very impressive choice.
After the service, everyone walked out of the door, to the tolling of the bell, directly into the churchyard where, with the traditional graveside prayers, the body was laid to rest. That is almost never possible today, but when it is, there really is nothing more perfect. Soil had been brought from the departed man’s beloved farm to put in the grave, and a shovel provided for any who cared to remain and offer this last token of love and farewell.
Only God means what he says so that what he says can be taken literally. God’s “literalism,” the fact that God’s intentions need no bridge to be actualized, means God’s speech - God’s sentences - need no translation. In contrast, we mortals live at a distance from one another as well as ourselves, and that is why we have to write sentences.
LORD, with what care hast thou begirt us round !
Parents first season us : then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws ; They send us bound
To rules of reason, holy messengers,
Pulpits and sundayes, sorrow dogging sinne,
Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,
Blessings beforehand, tyes of gratefulnesse,
The sound of glorie ringing in our eares ;
Without, our shame ; within, our consciences ;
Angels and grace, eternall hopes and fears.
Yet all these fences and their whole aray
One cunning bosome-sinne blows quite away.
Life is a rehearsal… the habits of rehearsal are everything we do in life, and I’m very affected by a lot of stories that encourage me in the belief that most of my life is preparation for crucial moments. I’m not saying I’ve reached a defining moment in my life, but I’ve reached some fairly crucial moments where I had to act from memory… .
You’re in a hospital, you’re holding the hand of an 82-year-old woman. All her family are around the intensive care unit, and you know that they’ve just unhooked the machines, so she’s got 45 minutes until she’s going to stop breathing. How do you fill that 45 minutes? That’s what you go to seminary for, to know how to fill that 45 minutes.
I’d say the first thing you do is you sing. You recall something that has been significant in the worshipping life of everybody there, and you sing that, and it puts you in touch with good things about the richness that this woman has brought to everybody’s life. And it’s also a prayer, but it’s a prayer that you know that the woman maybe can still hear, because hearing and touch are really among the last senses to go.
So if you’d never learned that hymn – in other words, if you hadn’t rehearsed – how could you ever sing it? So you think, ‘Well, why do we go – as you say to teenagers – why do we go every Sunday and we sing the same boring old hymns?’ Well, there’s an answer for you: because one day you’ll be in hospital with an 82-year-old woman — and it could be me, actually, that woman — and you’ll have 45 minutes until she dies, and you’ll be gathered around with everybody, and everyone will be weeping but wanting something important, and you’ll think, ‘Well, that’s why we sang those hymns, wasn’t it?’
Ethics reflects on the conditions of good moral thinking. Were it to posit an ideal relation of text to action which, in the name of obedience to scriptural authority, effectively abolished thinking, it would abolish morality, and thereby abolish itself. There is a necessary indeterminacy in the obedient action required by the faithful reading of the text. Acts are ordered in a basic repertoire of kinds and types, and of these kinds and types Scripture has a great deal of normative force to tell us; but Scripture does not determine the concrete act itself , the act we must perform now. If Scripture totally determined our actions, there would be no obedience, for there would be no deliberation. Deliberation does not simply repeat what it has heard; it pursues the goal of faithful and obedient action by searching out actions, possible within the material conditions that prevail, which will accord with the content of the testimony of Scripture.
The modern world, when it praises its little Caesars, talks of being strong and brave: but it does not see the eternal paradox involved in the conjunction of these ideas. The strong cannot be brave. Only the weak can be brave; and yet again, in practice, only those who can be brave can be trusted, in times of doubt, to be strong.
Is greed a religion today? It does seem that for many people material things hold a place in their lives that was once occupied by belief in God. The economy has achieved what might be described as a sacred status. Like God, the economy, is capable of supplying our needs without limit. Also, like God, the economy is mysterious, dangerous and intransigent, despite the best managerial efforts of its associated clergy.
If once our most vivid experiences were religious, today they involve money rituals. For example, the modern day equivalent of the city cathedral is the shopping complex. …
As we already noted, the very things Christianity claims God expects of believers, namely love, trust and service, may well characterize our relationship with money. A glance at the palpable glee on the faces of game show contestants confirms our love of money. You can literally buy ‘securities’ and ‘futures.’ Most disturbingly, as the French ethicist Jacques Ellul put it, “We can use money, but it is really money that uses us and makes us servants by bringing us under its law and subordinating us to its aims.”
“It seems to me rather absurd when Christians feel obliged either to celebrate or to lament the conversion of Constantine - to proclaim it either as the victory of the true faith over its persecutors or as the victory of the devil over the purity of the Gospel - rather than simply to accept it and all its historical sequels as part of the mysterious story of grace working upon fallen natures: to love everything good and splendid that it produced, to deplore everything sordid and evil, and then to recognize as well (and this is the most challenging task of all) that the tale of Christendom’s failure and defeat is also enfolded within those same workings of grace.”—David Bentley Hart (via onancientpaths)
A theology of faithful presence first calls Christians to attend to the people and places that they experience directly. It is not that believers should be disconnected from, or avoid responsibility for people and places across the globe. Far from it. Christians are called to go into all the world, after all and to carry the good news in word and deed that God’s kingdom has come. But with that said, the call to faithful presence gives priority to what is right in front of us – the community, the neighbourhood, and the city, and that people of which these are constituted. For most, this will mean a preference for stability, locality and particularity of place and its needs. It is here, through the joys, sufferings, hopes, disappointments, concerns, desires and worries of the people with whom we are in long term and close relation – family neighbours, co-workers, and community – where we find authenticity as a body and as believers. It is here we learn forgiveness and humility, practice kindness, hospitality and charity, grow in patience and wisdom, and become clothed in compassion, gentleness and joy. This is the crucible within which Christian holiness is forged. This is the context within which shalom is enacted.
“In Jesus Christ there is no isolation of man from God or of God from man. Rather, in Him we encounter the history, the dialogue, in which God and man meet together and are together, the reality of the covenant mutually contracted, preserved, and fulfilled by them. Jesus Christ is in His one Person, as true God, man’s loyal partner, and as true man, God’s. He is the Lord humbled for communion with man and likewise the Servant exalted to communion with God. He is the Word spoken from the loftiest, most luminous transcendence and likewise the Word heard in the deepest, darkest immanence. He is both, without their being confused but also without their being divided; He is wholly the one and wholly the other. Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man.”—
The last word that I have to say as a theologian or politician is not a concept like grace but a name: Jesus Christ. He is grace and he is the ultimate one beyond world and church and even theology. We cannot lay hold of him. In him is the spur to work, warfare, and fellowship. In him is all that I have attempted in my life in weakness and folly.
[The claim] that some think theological claims must be grounded in empirical proofs is based on the assumption that there is an essential tension between faith and reason. Even Christian theologians have sometimes underwritten the assumption that the faith of Christians cannot be rationally defended. However, the very presumption that reason is one thing and faith is another betrays a distorted view of reason. What Christians believe is not a “take it or leave it” choice, but rather an ongoing claim that all that is exists by God’s good grace. The working out of that claim is never finished.
“If I ever do get to be a fine writer, it will not be because I am a fine
writer but because God has given me credit for a few of the things He
kindly wrote for me. Right at present this does not seem to be His policy.
I can’t write a thing. But I’ll continue to try—that is the point. And at
every dry point I will be reminded Who is doing the work when it is done &
Who is not doing it at that moment. Right now I wonder if God will ever do
any more writing for me. He has promised His grace; I am not so sure about
“Quite simply, there is no formation without repetition. There is no habituation without being immersed in a practice over and over again… So it is precisely our allergy to repetition in worship that has undercut the counterformative power of Christian worship—because all kinds of secular liturgies shamelessly affirm the good of repetition. We’ve let the devil, so to speak, have all the repetition. And we, as liturgical animals, are only too happy to find our rhythms in such repetition. Unless Christian worship eschews the cult of novelty and embraces the good of faithful repetition, we will constantly be ceding habituation to secular liturgies.”—James K.A. Smith, Imagining The Kingdom: How Worship Works (via settledthingsstrange)
“What’s the meaning of life? It’s a big question, maybe the biggest of all. But Isaiah isn’t daunted by it. God’s answer lies in three unambiguous words: ‘For my glory.’ Faced with the unrelenting threat of our own death, pain, guilt, and isolation, we human beings understandably strive to make our own meaning, carve our own memorial, leave our own mark on the world. We create organizations, build edifices, have and raise children, invent products, devise theories, endow institutions, break records—all to stave off the ravages of time and hold back onrushing oblivion. But the truth is, there’s only one thing that’s eternal: God’s glory. Everything else is dust and ashes.”—Samuel Wells, Be Not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith, p. 31 (via recycledsoul)