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Category Archives: Church History

Moses, Immigration, and Anonymous Funerals

Moses, Immigration, and Anonymous Funerals

“Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day” (Deut. 34:1-6).

I am personally invested in the enterprise of international education. Since the advent of air travel, the opportunities for students to learn about their world, and how they fit into, have expanded exponentially. Every academic insitution worth its salt knows that studying abroad is an extraordinarily potent and life-changing element of any student’s education.

Those who work in the field of global education are an interesting lot. Having had their appetites whet through their own international experiences, they ceaselessly encourage students to have similar experiences. They know that, students who want to be global leaders need to experience being  immersed into another culture. Then, and only then, can one develop what is professionally called “intercultural competency … a crucial skill-set in today’s global workplace, where employees are more likely to interact with co-workers, vendors or customers from different cultures and countries, and need to work productively with people who have been shaped by different values, beliefs and experiences.”* 

For many international education workers, their wanderlust and international mobility has afforded them exotic well-traveled lives. Most acknowledge that, with each additional cross-cultural experience, they are more comfortable everywhere.

But home nowhere.

Moses was a true international.

Moses was born into a clan of refugees. He was an illegal immigrant into Egyptian society, and grew up immersed in that culture. He looked, sounded and acted in every way like an Egyptian. He was a criminal, and a fugitive of justice, hiding out in Midian. He married into a rural family, living, working and raising a family there for 40 years. By his 80th birthday, he looked, sounded and acted in every way like a Midianite, but with residual traits of Egyptian. What he wasn’t like? A jew.

Yet he was called by God to redeem the Jewish people. He went back to Egypt, with his Midianite/Egyptian accent, and worked to see an oppressed ethnic group have their lot improved, and ultimately experience independence. He ends up the leader of this vast group of people, with whom he is ethnically connected, but culturally estranged. For forty years Moses would experience the cross-cultural morphing that comes with immersing oneself in a new people and geography.

I wish Moses could do a press conference today. Having lived a life like his, what would he have to say? He experienced political upheaval, pandemics, judicial appointments, military exercises, food distribution programs, immigration politics, natural disaster relief, border protection strategies, attacks on patriotism, religious intolerance,… He also experienced multiple levels of racial discrimation – including slavery, judicial injustice and ethnic cleansing, But he also experienced the blessings of those who received him across these lines – upper class Egyptians, middle class Midianites, and lowest-caste Jewish refugees. Talk about cross-cultural competence!

At the tender age of 120, Moses dies. His life has been one of being perpetually displaced. Always an immigrant, never completely at home, Moses dies in … of all place, Moab. Not Egypt. Not Midian. Not the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. No, he dies in an unmarked grave in the hills of a land which would have a sketchy relationship with the Israelites forever. A seemingly ignoble death experience for one of history’s most influential and interesting people.

What made Moses a brilliant internationalist? His life was centered not in the ever-changing world of global policy, but in something deeper, richer and lasting. More on that in the next blog…

EO

 

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Ancient Paths: The 10 Commandments

Ancient Paths: The 10 Commandments

Over 3,300 years ago, the Israelite prophet Moses was called to the presence of God on Mount Sinai. It was there that God spoke the words we now refer to as “The Ten Commandments”.

gI_98327_Heston

Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille (1956)

In May of 1964, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, in partnership with Hollywood movie director Cecil B. DeMille, gifted the state of Arizona with a monument depicting the Ten Commandments. It was placed in Wesley Bolin Plaza, just east of the Arizona State Capitol. In 2003, the memorial became the target of an attempt by the American Civil Liberties Union to have it removed. They argued that it violated the concept of separation of church and state. They didn’t succeed, but the controversy surrounding the inclusion of something so religious on government grounds continues.

Why the secular world disapproves of the Ten Commandments.

Duh. Though three out of four North Americans still believe in God, there is significant doubt that the God of the Jews is the one true God. There is also doubt about a) the historicity of the Sinai event, b) the credibility of the Bible that contains the Sinai story, and c) the relevance of the Old Testament of the Bible to the New Testament practice of Christians.

Perhaps more to the point: Americans, in general, don’t like others telling them what to do. Particularly ancient religious guys like Moses. We don’t have the Code of Hammurabi, the Analects of Confucius or the Koran in Wesley Bolin Plaza … so why the Ten Commandments? Though I disagree with the assessment that the Decalogue monument is some sort of violation of anybody’s liberties, it is a bit odd to have them there.

But, in the church? Should they be prominent there?

Why believers promote the Ten Commandments

The Order of Eagles and DeMille felt like the U.S. was slipping away from its Biblical moorings. They were right, and the slippage continues. They wanted to see Biblical content remain central to American life. This reality, too, is fading.

Even in our churches.

9781595478603In our church, the Ten Commandments are an ancient path that is a critical part of our teaching and practice. Well, it’s a big part of what we call our Catechism, which is taught to our young teens in our Confirmation programs. We continue to believe that the Ten Commandments are part of scriptural revelation from God, and we read the Exodus and Deuteronomy passages when they come up in the cycle of public readings.

But many Christians who have practiced their faith for years are unable to list these ten commandments for memory. Many haven’t read them for themselves in years. It’s not enough that the Ten Commandments be conveniently memorialized in our Catechisms. They are an ancient path that needs to be hiked regularly for the good of our souls. How might we do that?

More tomorrow … from the pen of Martin Luther.

– EO

 

 

 

 

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Ancient Paths: The Athanasian Creed

Ancient Paths: The Athanasian Creed

Of the three creeds that are acknowledged by all of the ancient western Christian traditions*, the Athanasian Creed is known and used the least. It may be because it’s longer. But really it has a lot to do with its content.  Much of its purpose is an attempt to hammer down and make explicit one key point: the equality, unity and distinctness of the three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Maybe one of the reasons that this creed doesn’t resonate as strongly as the others is that … well, it’s not that convincing to the human intellect.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). We, of course, try to understand the thoughts and ways of God. Though there is an infinite separation between God’s truths and our ability to understand them (“as heaven is higher than the earth“), we are still encouraged to seek the face of God (Ps. 105:4, 27:8). The Apostle Paul says that, “For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

All we can know about God is what has been revealed. Thankfully, God has gone to great lengths to let us know what we can know. As Jesus told His disciples on that Maundy Thursday evening, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you an advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth … He lives with you and will be in you … I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you … when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (from John 14-16). So, “all truth” is ours … that is, all the truth that we both need, and can handle. But ultimately, the fullness of truth about God is beyond our grasp.

That’s why descriptions about God can be so unsettling, and less than “convincing”. You can say it over and over again (as does the Athanasian Creed), but it doesn’t become more convincing through repetition. “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one.” Like a bad cowlick, no amount of hair gel can pin this down. Three just isn’t one. And different just isn’t the same.

But both are true in our revelations from God. The writings of the prophets, the incarnation of Jesus, the authoritative teachings of the apostles — all agree that a) God is one, and 2) there are three persons who are God. Equally glorious, equally majestic, equally unlimited, equally mighty, equally authoritative … all eternal, all infinite, all uncreated. “He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.” 

It’s just hard, even impossible, to “think thus.” We can say it. And we can choose to believe it. But to “think thus”? “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” 

The Ancient Path is One of Belief

Herein lies the huge point for all of us as we pilgrimage down the ancient path. Ours is a journey of belief, not all-knowing; faith, not sight; revelation, not exploration. 

Many theological traditions, especially since the days of the Reformation, have prided themselves in their exhaustive studies of the scriptures, and their incessant attempts to pin down the cowlick of the mystery of God. Rather than taking Biblical revelation and believing it, they take the revelations collectively, and “try to make sense” of it. They end up with theological systems that say things that the scriptures don’t, claiming all the while that their thinking must be true – given what we know in revelation, compounded by our own brilliance that now makes it understandable.

This kind of speculation can fool us into extra-biblical thinking. But at worst, this work of theology can be a gross violation of the first commandments: We theologically “create” a “God” who isn’t simply the God He revealed Himself to be. This “God” becomes an idol – a product of our image-ination – that we then worship. And we misuse the name of God by attributing that name to a faux-version of “God”. “The Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Ex. 20:7). But, I’m ahead of myself. The ancient path of the 10 Commandments is my next blog entry …

Read the Athanasian Creed. Read it regularly. When it warms your heart, rejoice. When it bugs you, believe! It’s at those moments we are obliged to bend the knee to a God Who is much bigger, better and more brilliant than we. It is good to think thus.

– EO

* The Athanasian Creed is historically endorsed by the Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed Churches, and Roman Catholics.

 

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Ancient Paths: The Nicene Creed

Ancient Paths: The Nicene Creed

Unlike the Apostles’ Creed, which most believe emerged organically in the life of the early church over several decades, the Nicene Creed was the product of a very specific action item, at a very extraordinary conference. You see, early in the 4th century AD, the church has significant internal conflict. (Can you imagine that? The early church … in conflict? I thought that was just for us contemporary, divisive people!)

 

The Conflict

See the source imageSpecifically, there was debate about the person of Jesus. The Apostle’s Creed had made statements about the historical person of Jesus: His conception, passion, crucifixion, ascension and return. It told us what He did, but didn’t tell us Who He was. A debate raged over whether Jesus was, in fact, God in the flesh. One group, whose chief spokesman was a winsome, brilliant pastor from Egypt named Arius, believed that Jesus was subordinate to the Father, and therefore less than God (called Arians, and Arianism). On the other side were those who believed that Jesus was wholly God – as God as the Father is God.

Each side turned to the Bible for their proofs. Both had articulate spokesmen. Heels were dug in deeply. You might ask, “why don’t they just let each other believe what they want?” But it’s not that easy. They certainly couldn’t worship together, because they couldn’t ascribe to Jesus the same things. Beyond that, if Jesus is less than God, it’s blasphemy to call Him fully God. But, if Jesus is fully God, it’s blasphemy to say He’s not! Both sides saw the other as not only a different opinion, but a heresy.

The Political Solution

Meanwhile, Constantine had become the Emperor of the Roman Empire, and had chosen to see Christianity tolerated in His realm. He saw the value in the people being united by a shared faith – but quickly learned that the Christians were not united among themselves. He decided to get the Arianism issue resolved. So it was Constantine who called for the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, only eight months after becoming the sole Roman Emperor (this was obviously a high priority item in his administration!). It’s a shame the church couldn’t get it together on its own, but we can still be glad that the government forced the church to make important conclusions about what it believes.

The Conclusions of the Council: The Nicene Creed

Many issues were discussed at Nicaea, but nothing as important as the person of Jesus. The conclusions hammered out at the Council are contained in what we now call the Nicene Creed. It is a thicker, meatier version of the Apostles’ Creed, which they seem to have used as their foundation for their new statements. Here are the key items they layered upon the Apostles’ Creed that have become what we today call “orthodoxy” (right belief):

  • Jesus is begotten of the Father, but “eternally begotten” – in other words, there was never a time when Jesus was not. He is eternal. Like God (because He is God).
  • This begetting does not make Jesus less than the Father. Rather, Jesus is God (from God), true God (from true God), very God (from very God). God!
  • The Father and Jesus constitute a single “being”, a single “substance”. Jesus is as God as the Father is God.
  • Both the Father and Jesus were behind the creation of all things. Again, this was to affirm that Jesus was in no way less than God.
  • The Holy Spirit is also God: “Lord”, “giver of life”, and to be worshiped and glorified (which only God should receive).

Does this really matter?

See the source imageYES!!!!! As the early church father Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 AD) famously said in the days after the formulation of the Nicene Creed, “What is not assumed, is not redeemed.” In short, Jesus had to be God, because only God can redeem man. And Jesus had to be man in order to be the “first-born from the dead” (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:4). Creator had to become creation to save creation, but had to remain God to remain the perfect sacrifice. As soon as you say Jesus is less than God, his sacrifice for our sin isn’t enough. As soon as you say Jesus is less than man, then He no longer represents us … He is no longer the “second Adam” (Rom. 5:12-19, 1 Cor. 15:45), but is some sort of hybrid human. Jesus saves what He becomes while remaining Who He is. Otherwise, all is lost.

(By the way, modern day Arianism is propagated and practiced by Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Scientology, and some Pentecostal groups. Most liberal mainline denominations, including United Methodists, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Episcopalians, and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Lutherans don’t believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, sinlessness, miracles, resurrection and ascension … so Jesus’ “divinity” may be considered, but it has nothing to do with redemption.)

So, despite the good, hard work done in Nicaea 1,693 years ago, the battle over the truth of Who Jesus was and is rages on. In our Lutheran tradition, on every Communion Sunday, we proclaim the Nicene Creed, anchoring our souls to this indispensable, pivotal, redeeming truth. God became man – my only hope of being reconciled to God!

A few words about the Athanasian Creed, coming soon.

– EO

 

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Ancient Paths: The Creeds

I became a Christian in a church that didn’t make use of ancient creeds, and then I didn’t recite a creed in worship for the first 25 years of my faith. I was led to understand that the Bible, not creeds, is what we should know and recite (though we didn’t really do either). The old creeds, I was told, are like everything else from the historical tradition of Christianity: extra-Biblical formalism that breeds hypocrisy, mindlessness and boring worship programming.

apostles-creed-session-two-i-believe-in-4-728(Meanwhile, I was encouraged to write acrostic missions statements, paste them on banners, etch them into glass windows, and have my congregations commit them to memory. This wasn’t extra-Biblical, hypocritical or mindless … this was cutting edge church leadership! But I digress…)

I have “graduated” to a wholehearted embrace of creedal Christianity. Specifically, my adopted faith tradition embraces three ancient creeds: The Apostles’ Creed (c. 180 AD), the Nicene Creed (325 AD), and the Athanasian Creed (c. 440 AD). Today, a few words about the Apostles’ Creed, which is truly an “ancient path” that has been traveled by millions of believers over two millennia.

I think of the Apostles’ Creed as the swiss-army-knife of the church: A concise creed with multiple uses!

  1. Personal Faith: Like it did from its organic inception during the first two centuries AD, it provides a means by which we determine who is and isn’t a Christian. It’s a great litmus test for every individual to see if her beliefs line up with classical Christianity.
  2. Teaching: It also provides an ideal outline for discipleship. Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, says of the Creed, “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” Both at church and in the home, it functions as our syllabus for ongoing instruction.
  3. Evangelism: It is a great tool for proclaiming the gospel. It answers the question, “what must I believe to be saved?” Christians who have the points of the Apostles’ Creed memorized have at their disposal all of the necessary talking points for sharing the central tenets of the our faith.
  4. Worship: The Creed provides for a beautiful act of worship when read corporately. As the Psalmist says, “One generation will declare your works to the next and will proclaim your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4). When we together in an intergenerational gathering of worship proclaim the Apostles’ Creed – creation, incarnation, sacrifice, forgiveness, resurrection, ascension, judgment and heaven – our faith is refined, we transmit our beliefs to everyone in the service (believers or not), and are encouraged by the shared testimony of others.
  5. Contextualization: The Creed is brilliant for use in places where the church isn’t so literate. We can take for granted in our well-educated Western society that truth is “most true” when it’s in writing. But many through history, including many today, must understand their faith in manageable, memorable ways.

Again, I grew up without the Apostles’ Creed. So, my litmus test for belief changed with each new church community I attended (most of which felt compelled to write their own doctrinal statements). My discipleship and evangelism training regularly shifted to whatever the latest popular Christian book had to say. Most of my fellow believers in churches have felt hopelessly ill-equipped to evangelize their family and neighbors, much less their friends, and keep trying to come up with an effective resource and training program for outreach. And, because of a wholesale rejection of classical, formal worship elements (including creeds), my faith was enslaved to the always-shifting spontaneous utterings of my pastors.

Life is better with creeds. A bit on the content of the Apostles’ Creed tomorrow.

– EO

(Some good historical information about the Ecumenical Creeds can be found here.)

 

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“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“Ask For the Ancient Paths”

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths, “Which is the way to what is good?” Then take it and find rest for yourselves.‘” (Jeremiah 6:16).

My own personal journey has led me down ancient paths. Over 30 years ago, I was gripped by a love and desire for the experience of the ancient, early church. I have always wanted to be a part of a contemporary Christian tradition that has beaten a consistent path from the first century to the present … and would most fully connect me to the early church, both in word and practice. The journey has led me to the classical Christianity ensconced in Lutheranism (particularly in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod). I have chosen to take this path … and have found rest for myself. I recommend it without reservation.

This week our church* is beginning a 9-week preaching series called Ask For the Ancient Paths. It is a study of the six chief parts of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and Confession/Absolution. This series provides an ideal time for me to share some of my journey as it relates to the foundational teachings of classical Christianity as put forth in the Lutheran Catechism.

Feel free to engage with your questions, comments and critiques. “One who listens to life-giving rebukes will be at home among the wise. Anyone who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever listens to correction acquires good sense” (Prov. 15:31-32). Good sense, wise company, life! My journey continues. I hope yours will, too.

So, grab your hat, your sun-screen, your walking stick … let’s explore this ancient path together.

– EO

* Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church (LCMS), Gilbert, AZ

 

 

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Anglicans and Lutherans

Anglican_LutheranAn interesting article about two of my favorite “families” in Christianity.

Confessional Lutherans & Anglicans Draw Closer Together

As I have sought out denominational families to which I could be tethered in a wholehearted and fulfilling way, these have been the two that emerge.

– EO

 

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The Past of Our Future

Read Amos 9:8b-15

HOPE! Part 1 of 3

After what we’ve been reading in Amos, v.8 is so refreshing! “‘Except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’ declares the Lord.” God will sift His people through the sieve of His judgment, but a remnant of solid stones will remain!

Remnant. God always takes a bit of the past in order to build the future. Remember Noah and the Ark? God could have really started from scratch, and just made a new Adam and Eve. But He doesn’t.

Evangelical Orphan was launched out of a desire to better know the remnant God has used through time to bring me us where we are today. I was “orphaned” when I became a Christian in a Restoration Movement church. Leaders adopted an ahistoric primitivism, saying that the remnant through Church history was irrelevant after the New Testament accounts, and that all we need is God’s pure revelation, the scriptures, in order to build our family expression today.

True?

But God, and His Word, betray a different agenda. Encased in our texts is our Biblical heritage, Old Testament and New, warts and all. God wants us to know this time-and-space history. And Jesus came as the fulfillment of that history: the seed, the root, the stump, the branch. And now we are grafted into that history through the Messianic gospel being proliferated to the nations.

God never gave up on His covenant people, and did a do-over. Why do we think that, since Christ, God gives up occasionally on His Church, but does a contemporary do-over today? Because we deserve it more than they have in preceding centuries? Because we’ve are more, I don’t know, enlightened? (Don’t get me started…)

“In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old” (v. 11). God could start over. Instead, He deals with ruins. And the completed project will be a re-stored people “as in the days of old.” We look back for an image of our glorious future. (I love that the “booth” or “hut” of David is contrasted with the ritzy, collapsing temple at Bethel earlier in the chapter.)

“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them”  (v. 14). God will restore (see also v. 11, v. 15), but the people will do the rebuilding. Like Nehemiah, we are to be about God’s business of exploring our collective rubble, and rallying our people for the rebuilding of our tradition.

The past provides the plumb line for our building of our today, and our tomorrow. Our hope is firmly imbedded in our heritage. Without a keen sense of our history, we are lost. With it, we have hope.

Who is this hope for? And what will it look like? Two more days, friends…two more days…

– EO

 

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Cultural Disconnect?

Wow.

“One of the major reasons why the church has fallen prey to a cultural accommodation is that it has become disconnected from its roots in Scripture, in the ancient church and in its heritage through the centuries. . . . If it is true that the road to the future lies in the past, it is also true that when the past has been lost or neglected there is no certain future. . . . When the past is lost, as it now is in our Western world, there is nothing left to focus on except the self.” – Dr. Robert E. Webber, 2008

Church history matters.

– EO

 

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Meet Karl Barth

Meet Karl Barth

– by Absalon Alvarez

In the picture above Karl had just received discipline for disobedience from his Father Friz.

Karl Barth’s Childhood Family

Karl Barth was born on May 10th, 1886.

He was the first child of Anna Katharina Barth and Friz Barth. His father was a Swiss Reformed professor of New Testament.

A troublesome child, Barth didn’t like going to school and for some time was the leader of a local street gang, engaging in feuds at school and in the neighborhood. (In the this family picture, Barth had just been disciplined by his father).

In 1904 Barth set out to follow in the footsteps of his father and started to study theology at the University of Bern. Later on he continued his studies in Germany at the universities of Berlin, Tübingen and Marburg. His school of thought was in Liberalism, and his approach to ministry in his early years was that of social gospel. While studying, he was also involved in social justice causes, including advocating for workers’ rights.

The Barth's, c. 1910

The Barth’s, c. 1910

In 1909, Barth became a Pastor in Geneva, and then in Fafenwill in 1911, where he served for a decade. In Safenwill is where Barth met his wife, Nelly Hoffman, and married in 1913.

Barth continued to be extremely involved in social work since, which was in line with his influences throughout seminary. These included such liberal scholars as Wilhelm Herrmann (idealist) and Adolf Von Harnack (social gospel).

The Manifesto of the Ninety-Three was a letter signed by 93 German intellectuals, from many academic areas such as science, math, arts, and theology. They signed this proclamation endorsement in support of the German military actions in the beginning of WWI. This is believed to have been the cause of Barth’s disillusionment with his professors, many of whom signed it. He believed that the lack of morals in their theology allowed them to be influenced to fit the political movements of that time.

Torn by the way liberal theology was shifting, and was being used and influenced by secular leaders, Barth decided to rethink his theological understandings. A visit with preacher Christoph Blumhardt seems to have motivated Barth to begin a journey to understand and do theology differently. Blumhardt’s understanding was that “the call of the Christian is still for him to give himself completely to the cause of the kingdom; to do everything in his power to help the world toward that goal. Yet, at the same time, a Christian must remain calm and patient, unperturbed even if his efforts show no signs of success, willing to wait for the Lord to bring the kingdom at his own pace and in his own way.” Blumhardt’s influence encouraged Barth to begin his theological work, and to begin writing.

In 1916 Barth decided to write a commentary on Paul’s epistles to the Romans. Published in 1919, it was intended for his own use, and for a small circle of friends. Instead, this work landed like a bombshell in the theological arena.

kb3His commentary brought to life certain subjects that had been muted by liberal theology. Barth wrote vigourously of the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. This would be central to his thoelogy from this time onward. In particular, he clearly lays out the radicalness of the Gospel. “Faith is awe in the presence of the divine incognito; it is the love of God that is aware of the qualitative difference between God and man and God and the world.”

Because Barth’s commentary received international attention, he was offered a job at the University of Goettingen in 1921.

1927 Barth’s theological journey moved to a different set of topics, which would become the collection of writings we know today as Church Dogmatics. One of Barth’s key theological themes in Dogmatics, his emphasis on the Word of God,  is expressed in this quote: “The object of theology is not Christian faith, but the word of God.” Barth had become convinced that the Christian theology had granted too much to philosophy. So he declared that the Word of God provides not only answers, but also questions. “The gospel is not a truth among other truths. Rather, it sets a question mark against all truths.”

Barth’s work mirrored earlier theological traditions of freedom and critical stance towards the task of theology. He insisted, however, that no matter how true or correct theology was, it always remains a human endeavor, and therefore must always be seen with a combination of freedom, joy, and even humor.

In that time that many people believed that theological systems were a thing of the past. Church Dogmatics showed there was still room and value for systematic theology. For many, Barth’s theology served as an antidote for liberalism.

friedrichcochDuring the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party in 1933, the German church struggled against the belief of so-called “German Christians” who believed in the perfectibility of the human race. This conviction, which was rooted in natural theology, had become part of Hitler’s political agenda for the Third Reich. It was believed that the German church had a divine calling to reinterpret Christianity, particularly in terms of opposing Judaism. This gave credence to the establishing of numerous anti-Semitic policies.

kb4In protest, Barth and others gathered in the city of Barmen for what they called “ the witnessing synod.” The fruit of their meeting was what is known as tthe Barmen Declaration, written by mostly Barth. This meeting and declaration gave rise to what is known as “the Confessing Church”, the movement eventually led in part by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the years ahead, they would start an underground movement, and even make plans to assasinate Hitler.

After the WWII, Barth’s influenced remained considerable. He served as an important voice for the German church in their attempts for reconciliation with church bodies around the world. And, though he didn’t embrace a Fundamentalist understanding of the infallibility of the word of God (he believed in the infallibility of Jesus Christ, revealed in the Word), he modeled how a high regard for the scriptures could still be legitimately held in modern theological studies. Even though Barth died in December 10, 1968, his legacy and impact continue to have influence in theology today.

 

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