“Jesus is Lord”

“This reminds me of a comment I heard Bruce McCormack make about a year and a half ago at a meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society, in a paper addressing the question, “Why Should Theology Be Christocentric?” In explaining why it is that we must resist the temptation to abstract from the stark claim that “God is what Jesus does,” he paused to say, “Because the church should not stutter when it says, Jesus is Lord.”

Halden’s Interview wit Nathan Kerr

“We need to be people confident that God will help us speak and live appropriately to the speech we have been given. So I hope what we do in the divinity school is give the confidence that you can use the language of the faith “Jesus is Lord” without apology because if you do that God will show up and scare the hell out of you.”

Stanley Hauerwas in an Interview with David Crabtree



The Other Journal has also just posted one of the better reviews of Hipster Christianity by James Smith that also talks about what I am discovering on the quest for larger gospel:

They have simply discovered a bigger gospel: they have come to appreciate that the good news is an announcement with implications not only for individual souls but also for the very shape of social institutions and creational flourishing. They have come to appreciate the fact that God is renewing all things and is calling us to ways of life that are conducive to social, economic, and cultural flourishing as pictured in the eschatological glimpses we see in Scripture. They resonate with all of this, not because it’s cool, but because it’s true.

And for good measure here is Smith at his best in talking about Hipster Christianity. Go read the whole thing for all the fun:

In contrast to the Christian bohemian commitment to a good life that reflects the shape of kingdom flourishing, McCracken’s concluding chapters read like a naive, slightly whiny appeal to protect Jesus-in-your-heart evangelical pieties—which, of course, can sit perfectly well with the systemic injustice that characterize “normal” American life. While McCracken is focused on what he takes to be the hipster fixation on appearance (do we really need any more confirmation that McCracken doesn’t get it?), he calls us to remember “what really counts: our inner person” (203). This is the beginning of pages of tired evangelical clichés (“People should look at us and want what we have” [209]) that culminates in his individualist account of “being a Christian” which means “being transformed,” et cetera. So “how can we go on living like we did before once we have become Christians? And how can we possibly live like everyone else in the world when something so radical and transformative has happened in our lives?” (212) Yes, Mr. McCracken, that is indeed the question. And that’s exactly why my Christian bohemian friends refuse to live like all of those American evangelicals who have just appended a domesticated Jesus to the status quo of the so-called American Dream. Whereas it turns out you’re just worried that young Christians might be (gasp!) smoking and drinking a bit too much and have not sufficiently considered injunctions about dress in 1 Peter 3. Well, yes, indeed: those do seem like quite pressing matters for Christian witness in our postsecular world. By all means, let’s get our personal pieties in line. For as McCracken sums it up, “the Christian hipster lifestyle has become far too accommodating and accepting of sin” (200)—and by this, he means a pretty standard litany of evangelical taboos (did I mention sex?). It’s funny: my Christian hipster friends think conservative evangelicals have also become too accommodating and accepting of sin, but they tend to have a different inventory in mind—things like the Christian endorsement of torture and wars of aggression, evangelical energies devoted to policies of fiscal selfishness, and lifestyles of persistent, banal greed.

Forgiveness defined

One of the primary tasks I have taken up in pastoral ministry is helping people think through and understand a larger picture of the gospel. I think when I left seminary I felt as Karl Barth did in his first pastorate, albeit in a different way. When Barth came to his first pastorate he felt he lacked the tools to preach to the people because he was entrenched in the historical critical method and liberal theology. When I left seminary I don’t think I was entrenched in either of those things as much as I had become wise to know that the the church had very little idea of what the gospel actually is, and the one many people have been familiar with has been very harmful to some and too small for others.

However, the congregants wouldn’t let me off so easy. They were willing to accept that maybe there were other ways to talk about the gospel, but they actually wanted to know what they were. Feeling myself at a lack of words I have set on a path to discover how as an orthodox,  postliberal, white middle-class (and aware of that), Anabaptist, (postmodern-ish) seminary-educated, post-evangelical male I might actually talk about the gospel instead of just critiquing others versions of it.

So, I began to reflect upon the words of Anabaptist missiologist Wilbert Shenk. Wilbert told us our last day of class, “What is the Gospel? That is the question you should always be asking.” And then before finishing with this point he stated, “Never write an article about it.” I think I have done my best to keep in mind those thoughts as I attempt to keep asking that question which is in front of me.

But this blog post began as a way to point towards an excellent article in this month’s Christianity Today (link forthcoming, it’s only in print right now) How Far Should Forgiveness Go? by Christine A. Scheller. As I rethink through the gospel one of the words that has been on my mind is forgiveness and how we conceive of it in a better way. This article is stirring, personal, and theological that has written exactly what I hope the church would come to say and struggle with as we talk about forgiveness. Here is the ending for you while I wait for the online edition to link too:

“Forgiveness is not so much a word spoken, an action performed, or a feeling felt as it is an embodied way of life in an ever-deepening friendship with the triune God and with others. As such, a Christian account of forgiveness ought not to simple or even be focused on an absolution of guilt; rather it ought to be focused on the reconciliation of brokenness, the restoration of communion—with God, with one another, and with the whole creation. Indeed, because of the pervasiveness of sin and evil, Christian forgiveness must be at once an expression of commitment to a way of life, the cruciform life of holiness in which we seek to “unlearn” sin and learn the ways of God, and a means of seeking reconciliation in the midst of particular sin, specific instances of brokenness.” (From Embodying Forgiveness by L. Gregory Jones.)

Each of us lives in the midst of particular sins and specific instances of brokenness. And each of us must choose how we will respond. Living a life of holiness and learning the ways of God sometimes means letting go of our need for justice and instead embracing a world that groans in anticipation of the day when it, and we, will be redeemed. It means accepting with humility that God alone is good.

Why Mark? Why Now?

Placher summarizes why Mark is particularly relevant to our time:

(1) Historical: Of all the sources available to us, Mark get us closest to Jesus own lifetime. (2) Political: The great theologian Karl Barth used to say that theology should be done with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The newspapers these days are full of stories of war and torture in the Middle East and the church debates about whom to ordain and whom to exclude. Indirectly, Mark turns out to have a lot to say about such topics. (3) Literary: Mark is an odd text-abrupt, sometimes clumsy, written in Greek totally without literary polish, yet astonishing in its complexity, its allusiveness, its anticipation of the techniques of “postmodern” literature. Written by an ill-educated author long ago, it has amazing similarities to the work of some of the most sophisticated storytellers of our time. (4) Theological: One of the most important themes in recent theology has been a rebellion against pictures of God as unchanging, unaffected by the vicissitudes of the world in favor of an idea of God as, in Alfred North Whitehead’s beautiful phrase, “the great companion-the fellow-sufferer who understands.” We encounter such a God not only in twentieth and twenty-first-century theologians, but also-more than anywhere else in the New Testament- in the gospel of Mark.

Of the 4 of these I am most interested in his exploration of the theological. But with the abrupt ending to Mark it is worth noting that Placher’s untimely ending interrupted him from providing his final reflections to a book that appears also lacking in final reflections.

Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible

imageLike most new pastors I have yet to invest in a commentary set. I have been tempted to get the New Interpreter’s set, mainly because it is reliable and affordable, but the more I use it the less it gives me that “thought” for the sermon. It’s a safe choice, but one lacking punch. After that I was tempted to just piece together commentaries by people and sources I like until I have the full Bible, but that is expensive and will take a long time (plus I could never see myself purchasing a commentary on Jude). The two other sets I considered purchasing were the old Interpretation set because I enjoy so many of the commentators and the Brazos Theological Commentary. But I found the old Interpretation set to be dated in its references and occasionally lacking any significant thought. The Brazos set is intriguing, but you never really know what you are going to get. Hauerwas’s got reviews that asked us to pick him or Matthew, Pelican’s was only kindly received, Telford Work’s actually reads like a commentary, whereas Carey’s Jonah is more like a novel (and it is really good). Radner’s Leviticus commentary is awesome, but I hard time imagining preaching on it and Jenson’s Ezekiel commentary was good, but not as good as I expected from him. Needless to say, I will keep close tabs on this series but I am not sure it is a solid main series for a preacher.

However, stepping into the ring out of nowhere is Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Westminster John Knox. In a previous life I was the one most often keeping people up to date on recent books, but this one I found out about from a former professor who normally is 3 years behind the curve. Needless to say, I was shocked I hadn’t heard about it sooner especially with first volume coming from famed postliberal, William Placher on the book of Mark. On the webpage they have what looks like a full list of commentators and the Luke volume by Justo L. González is coming out this month.

According to a friend of mine in the publishing business WJK doesn’t view  this volume as a rival to the Brazos Series but more of an update to the Interpretation Series. The introduction to this series begins:

Belief…is a series from Westminster John Knox Press featuring biblical commentaries written by theologians. The writers of this series share Karl Barth’s concern that, insofar as their usefulness to pastors goes, most modern commentaries are “no commentary at all, but merely the first step toward a commentary.” Historical-critical approaches to Scripture rule out some readings and commend others, but such methods only begin to help theological reflection and the preaching of the Word. By themselves, they do not convey the powerful sense of God’s merciful presence that calls Christians to repentance and praise; they do not bring the church fully forward in the life of discipleship. It is to such tasks that theologians are called.

WJK was nice enough to send me a review copy of Placher’s book that I plan on blogging about as I read through it. I am excited for what this series is bringing to the commentary game and am hopeful that I will finally have a series to call my own.

If you are interested you can subscribe to Belief by 12/31/10 and receive 40% off on each volume. Call 1.800.554.4694 for details

What is postliberalism?

I generally don’t cross link posts but I feel like this might be of interest to some of those who don’t read the Barth Blog.

I know I am behind on my post for this week as I was up in Portland taking some Mennonite ordination classes. But in the meantime I would encourage fellow Barthian’s to check out the conversation on Postliberalism over at Halden’s blog. 

One of the more interesting thoughts comes from PhD student David Congdon at Princeton. His comment gives a fair, if not good, description of postliberalism regarding intratextuality and extratextuality and then ends with this point:

I myself think this dichotomy between intratextuality and extratextuality is a huge mistake. As I have defined it in my own work, Christian faith occurs in the (apocalyptic-existential) interstice between intra- and extratextuality.

Best I can tell both Halden and David think Frei and Lindbeck are missing Barth on this exact point. To make this point they use Barth’s idea of revelation over religion.

While I agree with both of them that Barth’s theology of revelation is exactly what is missing in Postliberal readings of Barth, I am not sure that they miss Barth. We aren’t very far into CD yet but as far as I can tell Barth does theology primarily through intratextuality and that he properly understands what all theology must admit: that God can, and does function extratextuality. But as far I can tell Barth does doesn’t do theology through extratextuality. The recognition that Frei and Lindbeck’s the works in question don’t deal with the nature of revelation, but how to do theology means to me that they don’t miss Barth by much, if at all. David and Halden might be right that theology should be done at “the interstice between intra- and extratextuality” I just don’t think Barth is a theologian that models that in how he does theology (although he leaves the door open for it). I do wonder if David Tracy and Paul Tillich might be better models of those who attempt to theology this way but I am not as familiar with their work enough to really make that claim.

That said we still have a long ways to go in CD.


Cabe has written a post on the Barth blog that shows exactly why we would commit to reading 5000 pages over a great period of time. The highlights are some of the Barth quotes but head over there to read the whole thing with Cabe’s excellent thoughts:

In their human identification these special events are obviously subjected to an interplay of light and darkness which can only damage and forbid both the absolute affirmation of the optimist and the absolute negation of the pessimist. The really outstanding events of our life, upon which our faith lives and in which our whole life is revealed to us in faith as life in God, are not those which we can affirm with this human certitude and then have to doubt again. They are not subject to this fluctuation; they can and must be discussed apart from this false dialectic. These really outstanding events of our life are simply identical with our share in the great acts of God in His revelation…However high may rise or however deep may fall the waves of life’s events, as they are perceptible to us from within and below, the real movement of my life, the real events in which it is clear to me that in the whole dimension of my existence I belong to God, both at the flood and ebb, are secured from the other side, by the Word of God Himself.