Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Forgive me, gentle readers, for I have sinned: it has been nearly a month since the last link post. So, as you might imagine, we have some catching up to do. There’s been lots happening here at DET and elsewhere, and I hope that you’ll take this opportunity to make sure you’re up to speed.

And hopefully it will take you a little while to work through the backlog. Because we’re going to take a couple weeks off here and go on a hiatus until April 5th. What with Spring breaks and Holy Weeks, we’ve got other things to do. But we’ll see you on the other side and the below will keep you busy. And if they don’t suffice, dig into the archives of serials, book reviews, and even the KBBC. Trust me: DET is coming up on 10 years, and we’ve got more than enough in our archives to keep you busy for two weeks.

Just a few highlights that don’t fall into the below categories:

  • I have now completed my Reading Scripture With John Calvin series on Malachi. You can access this series in the serials index (it’s down at the bottom), or you can access it – or even download it – as a .pdf here. (The RSJC series on 1 Peter is similarly available here.) Come back on April 5th to see what series I’ll be reviving to plug the gap in our hearts and minds left by the temporary suspension of this Calvin series.
  • Those responsible for steering the Lindenwood University ship have decided that I should give the commencement speech to our undergraduates this May. I can’t decide if this is punishment or an honor, but I’m telling myself that it’s the latter. The campus newspaper website has a brief write-up.
  • You may recall that I spoke at the TF Torrance Theological Fellowship meeting at the American Academy of Religion back in November. (I posted about it.) Well, the TFTTF folks made a video recording of my lecture, so if you’re dying to watch me talk for about 70 minutes, you can make up for your abject failure to attend this ground-breaking lecture [Ed. note: we want to be clear that tongues are very firmly planted in cheeks with reference to the forgoing statement.] The lecture will be published in Participatio later in the year.

And now on to the links!

DET:


Elsewhere:



==================================

Friday, March 18, 2016

What Am I Reading? Mark Chaves, "American Religion"

I recently finished Mark Chaves’ American Religion: Contemporary Trends (Princeton University Press, 2013). It presents an account of the state of American religion that manages to be brief, accessible, and packed with information. These characteristics are also the stated goals of Chaves, so it is also an example of an author having and achieving clear aims. It is a book of substance and not one of style or rhetorical flair,* and it is worth your time.

Chaves’ overarching thesis is that contrary to popular opinion, the state of American religion over the last several decades can be summed up in one word: “continuity.” Chaves argues that claims that religion is undergoing either a renaissance or death are both wrong (10). In a key table that helps to orient the book (6-7), nearly 30 ways of measuring American religiosity are listed (i.e. “Prays at least several times a week,” “Birth of a child has strengthened religious faith,” “Knows God exists and has no doubts,” etc.), and without exception the percentages have only lightly fluctuated in decades (8).

Chaves says he uses the most reliable material for this opinion. He relies mainly on “the General Social Survey (GSS), a survey of the American adult population that has been conducted at least every other year since 1972.” (4) He also employs “the National Congregations Study (NCS), a national survey of local religious congregations from across the religious spectrum,” which have been in operation since near the turn of the 21st century (5). According to Chaves, despite its youth as a study “they offer the best information we have about congregational change since 1998.”** This is not my area of expertise so I’m inclined to cautiously assent to Chaves’ claim to be using excellent sources, but if any of you disagree please comment!

So is there anything interesting happening in American religion? Chaves says yes. Despite the apparent reality that there has not been major upheaval, he is quick to point out that “even in the midst of substantial continuity in American religion there are signs of change in the direction of less religion.” (11) There are some potentially anxiety-inducing (or positive, depending on your theology) signs, like the dwindling prestige and desire of vocational ministry (chapter 6) and the increasing intermingling of “religiosity and some kinds of political and social conservatism" (chapter 8). The latter sign, in Chaves’ view, has not led to “true polarization or culture war—yet.” (94)

Along the way tidbits are mixed in that would be interesting by themselves. For example, the rejection of inerrancy appears to be specifically tied to education. When “college graduation rates stopped increasing rapidly,” so did the eschewal of inerrancy. Based on Chaves’ research it seems clear to me that we need to get a higher percentage of people in college (34-6)!

I don’t want to provide too many examples of his analysis, but I want to encourage you to read his book. So get to it!


__________
*A rare exception to this occurs on pgs 18-9, where he shares a “sociology of religion” joke! I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that he was probably right to throw cold water on it.

**Chaves oversees the NCS (5).

==================================

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Thomas Becon: Beacon of the English Reformation

I've been rereading the delightful and (unlike much of my recent fare) concise historical survey of Anglican spirituality by Bishop John R. H. Moorman titled The Anglican Spiritual Tradition (Templegate, 1983). I was amused by his two-page, tongue-in-cheek review of the career of Thomas Becon, a trenchant Protestant polemicist of the mid-16th century (pp. 50-51). Becon (c. 1511–1567), like many Reform-minded clerics of his day, studied at Cambridge; he then served as chaplain to the Lord Protector during the reign of young Edward VI and also worked in the household of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

When Queen Mary came to power in 1553, Becon fled to Germany and returned to England in 1559, after the accession of Elizabeth, and he was appointed a canon at Canterbury cathedral. As Moorman wryly notes, Becon was very much given to jump into the fray in those tumultuous early days of English Protestantism.

It was in his early writings that Becon showed his great gift for devotional and spiritual work, though even here he found it impossible to prevent himself from dropping into castigations and denunciations of the Church of Rome (p. 50).

Moorman describes an early Becon work, The Flower of Godly Prayers, published in 1539, during the reign of Henry VIII. It would seem that the English reformer combined a certain zeal -- perhaps bordering on fanaticism, from a 21st century perspective -- with great skill in prolixity:

This is a collection of seventy prayers, some of inordinate length, designed for all occasions. Some are purely personal, some are meant for the family or household, for those in office in Church and State, for all sorts and conditions of men, even including one's enemies. Many of them are, to our ears, curiously informative, didactic and abusive. They go to great length to inform the Almighty of facts with which he must be already aquainted; they tell the Lord that a bishop is no good shepherd if he "standeth all day whistling and calling at his sheep" when he ought to be driving them to "sweet and pleasant pastures"; and they inform the poor that poverty, like riches, is a gift of God (ibid.).

Becon, however, like many a modern church leader, was also capable of ecumenical gestures. Take, for example, his prayer for "Uniform and Perfect Agreement in Matters of Christian Religion." This text, as it happens, attacked Roman Catholic religious orders and various other societies as, in his own words, "an innumerable rabble of hypocrites more, papists, anabaptists ... and such other dunghills of Satan" (p. 51). From a modern standpoint, this screed, Moorman notes, "would scarcely win approval for a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" (ibid.).

Some of Becon's works were less polemical and more devotional, Moorman concedes. What all these works had in common was their great prolixity. The 21st century Twitter user, who can't be bothered to spell out a two-syllable word, surely lacks the stamina of the average 16th century English reader, who gobbled up these wordy tomes much like a contemporary teenager (ahem) rabidly consumes the latest "Game of Thrones" episode. For example, Becon's Sick Man's Salve

is an immensely long death-bed scene in which four friends prepare a man called Epaphroditus for his death. In spite of its length, this was so popular that many editions had to be printed in the sixteenth century, and some people appear to have learned the whole thing by heart (ibid.).

16th century beacon hut in Culmstock, Devon, England
By Martin Bodman (via wikimedia commons)
Today we might wince or chuckle at such ardent zeal. After all, in our day, a sitting pope has intimated that, should a Lutheran slip in the side door during a mass and sidle up to the communion rail, the Holy See is not going to make a fuss over it. But maybe we should pause before judging the past too harshly: The next time one of us reads the 800th article of the week in Slate about what a bigoted buffoon Mr. Trump is ("Holy crap! You won't believe what he said next!") or the latest missive from Breitbart about how Secretary Clinton is the most pernicious of traitors, who deserves no less than to be locked up underneath Guantanamo. Perhaps, in some respects, were not so different from our forbears after all.

In our day, apparently, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson has proven that all religion is bunk -- He demonstrates it with some mathematical algorithm that's beyond my ken, as I never progressed beyond trigonometry in high school. But we should recall Becon's younger contemporary, another beacon of English letters, Francis Bacon, a philosopher who set in motion the wheels of enlightened empiricism that ultimately would be our salvation -- It's coming, Dr. Stephen Pinker assures us: Wait for it. So to the late modern palate, why is Bacon kosher while Beacon is beyond the pale?

I end with a salutary reminder from a beacon from our own day:

I really believe that all of us have a lot of darkness in our souls. Anger, rage, fear, sadness. I don't think that's only reserved for people who have horrible upbringings. I think it really exists and is part of the human condition. I think in the course of your life you figure out ways to deal with that.

So says Kevin Bacon.

Preach it, brother.

==================================

Monday, March 14, 2016

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: Malachi 4.3–6

Malachi 4.3–6

[3] And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. [4] Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. [5] Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and horrible day of the LORD comes. [6] He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

==========================

COMMENTARY: As Calvin finishes up the last few verse of Malachi, and I in turn finish up the last few pages of Calvin’s commentary, there are three things that I would call your attention to, gentle readers.

First, Calvin gets quite a bit of mileage out of verse 4. One of the points he makes pertains to the importance of the Torah / law, delivered by Moses, and of the relation of the prophetic tradition to the law. His presupposition is that there is a gap in the prophetic office, so to speak, such that God does not speak through prophets between Malachi and John the Baptist. Given this, verse 4 becomes an instruction for how Israel should persist in their faithfulness to God in the interim, i.e., they should attend to the law: “Malachi, in order to keep the Jews from wandering, and from departing from the pure doctrine of the law, reminds them that they were faithfully and constantly to remember it” (624). Calvin then raises the rhetorical question: why mention only the law? Why not also instruct them to attend to the prophetic teaching? Answer: “the prophetic office was not separated from the law, for all the prophecies which followed the law were as it were its appendages; so that they included nothing new, but were given that the people might be more fully retained in their obedience to the law. . . . [T]he Prophets were the interpreters of Moses” (ibid). So, by recommending attention to the law Malachi also recommends attention to the prophets since, insofar as the prophets provide interpretation of the law, it is impossible for one to attend to the law without hearing the prophets. And this raises implications for our own time, giving the overwhelming concern for justice that comes out in the prophetic tradition in ways that aren’t necessarily obvious in the “statutes and ordinances” (as verse 4 puts it)—those “statutes and ordinances” are properly understood vis-à-vis the prophetic concern with justice!

Second, we have an excellent example of Calvin’s rhetorical reading of scripture in this passage. Calvin’s rhetorical analysis has long been one of my favorite features of his thought, although at times I wish he had more consistently deployed it. But he brings it out here in connection with verse 5, and returns to it with reference to the last clause of verse 6. What are we to do with all this talk of a “great and horrible day of the LORD,” of with this threat of striking “the land with a curse”? How does this mesh with the idea, which Calvin everywhere maintains, that God’s providence should be thought of in fatherly terms? How does this mesh with the idea of peace and joy found in Christ? Calvin tackles this head on with rhetorical analysis, and a little of what we might today call “victim-blaming” thrown in:
Though then Christ calmly presents himself, as we have before observed, and as soon as he appears to us, he brings an abundant reason for joy; yet the perverseness of that people was such as to constrain the Prophet to use a severe language, according to the manner in which God deals daily with us; when he sees that we have a tasteless palate, he gives us some bitter medicine, so that we may have some relish for his favour. Whenever then we meet with any thing in Scripture tending to fill us with terror, let us remember that such a thing is announced, because we are either deaf or slothful, or even rebellious, when God kindly invites us to himself (628–29).

If the sloth of our flesh keeps us back, let even this threatening stimulate us (631).
In other words, these sometimes terrifying threats are there to get our attention when we are otherwise too distracted to pay proper heed to God's kind offer of forgiveness. And notice, too, that Calvin’s rhetorical analysis is really an analysis of God’s rhetoric—i.e., the way that God speaks and acts (by way of the authors of scripture but also in the Christian's experience) to produce a certain effect in people. And this effect is to bring people to God. Finally, notice that this bit of rhetorical analysis is undertaken in order to show the unity of God as testified to in Malachi with the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Third, we have here evidence of what I increasingly think of as Calvin’s soteriological concentration. The rhetorical analysis above is entirely soteriological in focus; by which I mean, Calvin there analyzes how it is that God moves people toward faith. And this has been the case in each of the times that I’ve encountered memorable instances of Calvin’s rhetorical analysis. We see this also in Calvin’s discussion of the argument in his commentary on Romans—where he calls “justification by faith” “the main subject of the whole Epistle” (Calvin, Commentary on Romans, xxix). This is especially significant insofar as Calvin seems to have modelled many editions of his Institutes on the structure that he found in Romans. And here in verse 6, the conclusion of the book of Malachi, we have an astounding statement: “the turning of the heart is God’s peculiar work, and still more, it is more peculiarly his than his other works” (629). Woah! God’s work as savior is more properly God’s work than God’s work as creator, providential sustainer, etc. Or perhaps the better way to put it would be to say that in God’s saving work we meet with the core of God’s character (given things Calvin says in the Institutes, I highly suspect that he would want to distinguish here between what he calls God’s “character” and God’s being), and all the rest is organized around that. Do we see here the enduring influence of Luther?

PRAYER:

(Calvin concludes each of his lectures on Malachi with a prayer.)
Grant, Almighty God, that as nothing is omitted by thee to help us onward in the course of our faith, and as our sloth is such that we hardly advance one step though stimulated by thee,—O grant, that we may strive to profit more by the various helps which thou hast provided for us, so that the Law, the Prophets, the voice of John the Baptist, and especially the doctrine of thine only-begotten Son, may more fully awaken us, that we may not only hasten to him, but also proceed constantly in our course, and preserve in it until we shall at length obtain the victory and the crown of our calling, as thou hast promised an eternal inheritance in heaven to all who faint not but wait for the coming of the great Redeemer.—Amen.



So, that’s it. Another unit of the Reading Scripture with John Calvin series is in the books. Here’s what I can’t say and what I can say at this point. I can’t say what the next book to be tackled will be. And I can’t say that because I can’t say when or whether this series will continue. It takes a lot of time and energy, and it may be that time and energy is best spent in other ways for the foreseeable future. I can say, however, that this series is one of the things that I’m most proud of on DET. And it is the series that I have most enjoyed over the years. It is also the series through which I have learned the most, and which has borne the most fruit in my own thought. So I may return to it in the future. Who knows? All that I can say for sure at this point is this: Calvin has worn me out—I need a break!

==================================

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Two Caveats: Diller's Concluding Unphilosophical Postscript on Barth & Plantinga

Kevin Diller's constructive and dialogical study of theological epistemology in the work of Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga has received some rave reviews (for example, see Darren Kennedy's piece for the Center for Karl Barth Studies). DET's Travis McMaken has expressed appreciation, yet with some ambivalence about Diller's project (see here and here . The second of these posts -- on "Barth, Pannenberg, and Fideism" -- generated one of our longest comment threads in recent memory). I also received a review copy of Diller's book and am submitting a review of it to an academic journal, so I won't analyze it at length here. I found this book very informative, especially on Plantinga, and overall stimulating. Today, though, I want to muse on two important caveats about the limits of his project that Diller raises in the postcript to his tome (pp. 295-300). "Caveat" is my own language; he labels these issues "concerns."

Kevin Diller, Theology's Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response, (IVP Academic, 2014).

"Mr. Pipo Think 03" by Nevit Dilman
(via Wikimedia commons)
First, Diller flags what he calls the "self-deception concern." As both Barth and Plantinga argue, Diller has shown, the warrant for the veracity of Christian belief (such as it is) comes from the free gift of divine revelation and not from any independent basis of human knowledge. How can we have any ultimate guarantee that our religious beliefs aren't all made up -- that they aren't based on some alienating projection, let's say (a la Feuerbach)? Diller admits, correctly, that no philosophical or theological framework can finally eradicate the question of doubt. Indeed, he writes, the possibility of self deception is intrinsic to human knowing as such and pervades all species of inquiry:

The [Barth-Plantinga] proposal leaves us with no way of ruling out the possibility of self-deception. But being unable to rule out this possibility is just a feature of being human and follows from our acknowledgement that we are humanly unable to self-secure the grounds of knowledge (p. 297).

If we could post of some sort of magic pill that would make the problem of doubt go away for good, we would be something less than human; what's more, as Diller writes, we would no longer be in the situation of relying utterly on divine grace to illumine our paths to knowledge.

Diller's second caveat is the "practicality concern." In some ways, I find this issue more interesting than the first. Diller writes:

This concern has to do with the apparent uselessness of this proposal for determining whose view is the right view on a number of debated questions in contemporary theology. In fact, this proposal fails even to offer an argument to settle the most basic questions in theological epistemology (e.g., is there a God to know?) (pp. 297-298).

The foundations of the truth of revelation -- as both Barth and Plantinga maintain (each in his own idiom) -- simply are not at our disposal, for we are creatures and not the Creator.

Of course, the forgoing points don't entail we wallow in agnostic despair. To see how, according to Diller, Christian theology and philosophy of religion might offer tools for answering skepticism, you will have to read the book for yourself. Still, whatever other uses the Christian thinker might make of Diller's erudite study, for my part, I'd like to take his two caveats and print a bookplate to put in the front cover of all my books of theology, philosophy and social theory.


==================================

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann on "Sachkritik": Once More with David Congdon

Congdon’s work is full of insightful historical tidbits and encapsulations of the relationship between Bultmann and Barth. It would have to be, given the book’s subtitle!

David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Fortress, 2015).

I’ve posted on Congdon’s book already, but I have not yet posted in any detail on how he handles this relationship between Barth and Bultmann. This post will plug that gap, and it is an important gap to plug. I will do so by highlighting Congdon’s discussion of the debate that the two Bs had over the question of Sachkritik in 1922. Barth’s preface to the first edition of his Romans commentary provided the origin for this debate. Barth distinguishes in that preface between the “subject matter” [Sache] of the biblical text and the “document” that communicates this message (e.g., Paul’s epistle to the Romans). As Congdon explains, Bultmann was teaching a class on Romans when the second edition of Barth’s book came out. Bultmann interacted with the book in his course and then wrote a review that pushed Barth on this point. This led to responses from Barth in later prefaces, all the details of which Congdon lays out in admirable clarity. What I give you below is the conclusion of Congdon’s discussion wherein he draws the moral from the story, as it were. As always, bold is mine and italics is in the original.
In the end, the debate between Barth and Bultmann over Sachkritik is an instructive moment in theological history, not only because they are arguably the two most important theologians of the twentieth century but also because it is emblematic of a debate that long preceded them and continues to live long after their deaths. While Bultmann was, in the opinion of this author, the victor in their exchange, each represents a positive value that must be upheld in any consideration of scripture. Barth champions the claim that the revelation of God, the kerygmatic word of Christ, cannot be objectified as one voice within scripture among others, but rather stands beyond the text as the divine Krisis of all human words. Bultmann affirms this soteriological point, but recognizes that just because God’s word is “wholly other” does not mean that all human words are equally negated and equally affirmed; instead, some human words echo the word of God more clearly and responsibly than others. The divine kerygma becomes a light by which to discern those human voices that serve as more appropriate witnesses to God’s saving action in Christ.

In sum, Barth lifts up the divine “yes and no” while Bultmann lifts up the corresponding human “yes and amen.” Both need to be heard together, but in their distinctiveness: the divine as divine, the human as human. But this means we simultaneously affirm the necessity of criticism, for the human word is always imperfectly analogous to the divine; it is always a word rendered at least partially opaque to the kerygma by virtue of its being situated within the contingencies of history. Sachkritik is necessary because, as Jüngel puts it, the biblical texts are “human speech of their time.” Biblical interpretation therefore requires an analogia fidei, a critical understanding of God on the basis of faith’s relation to Christ. . . . Barth’s own dogmatic method is, in truth, a program of Sachkritik: it is a discriminating evaluation of our God-talk in accordance with the Sache of God’s self-communication to faith. Just as the truth of myth demands a program of demythologizing, so too the truth of the witness to Christ demands the critical analysis of the corresponding human witness. Sachkritik, as a mode of the analogia fidei, serves revelation’s capture of language by criticizing language’s capture of revelation. (735-37)

==================================

Friday, March 04, 2016

T. F. Torrance as seen through the eyes of Andrew Purves

One of my favorite paragraphs in Purves’s recent book was his brief sketch of Torrance. It leaps off the page as a vivid crystallization of Torrance and his work. At least, it does so for me – and, admittedly and much to my regret, I know Torrance only from his writings. But Purves communicates well the personality that I have encountered shining through those writings. As usual, bold is mine and italics are from the original.

Andrew Purves, Exploring Christology & Atonement: Conversations with John McLeod Campbell, H. R. Mackintosh, and T. F. Torrance (IVP Academic, 2015), 53.

As Mackintosh was mostly brief in length and gentle in tone, Torrance is fecund, lengthy to the point of prolixity, and relentlessly intense and encyclopedic (and exhausting) in style. With Torrance we enter a world where the theologian is ferociously battling for the integrity and faithfulness of theology, but not against the detractors of Christian faith and theology. His is a combat on behalf of the classically construed faith of the church catholic, most certainly critically received, but also under attack from the very theologians whose job it is to speak the truth of Jesus Christ into the present world with energy, intelligence, imagination and love, but many of whom he regards as failing to do so. With Torrance we enter a world of theological science (his image), of theology as kata physin, theology developed according to the nature of the subject of inquiry: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, given for our salvation and known through Jesus Christ. This theology is assertive and kerygmatic, abundant with confidence and conviction, prone to soaring flights of generality, yet with close attention to detail.

==================================

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

An Ecclesiology of Freedom: Bender on Barth and his Critics

In his doctrine of the church, as in his theology generally, Karl Barth eschewed conventional weapons -- even such seemingly benign bulwarks as an infallible text, unchanging dogmas and a stable hierarchy.
Kimlyn J. Bender highlights why Barth's ecclesiology remains fruitful and provocative today.

Travis McMaken has reviewed Bender's impressive volume on modern theology (see here and here). The publisher also sent me a free review copy (with no prior expectation my reviews would be positive), so I too will offer a couple of posts highlighting notable bits of this book. I will echo Travis' assessment: Bender is a formidable interpreter of Barth and the contemporary theological scene, and his work is well worth a careful read -- especially in the area of Barth's ecclesiology, Bender's special area of expertise.

Kimlyn J. Bender, Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014).

In that vein, I particularly commend the first essay in the volume: "Karl Barth's Doctrine of the Church in Conversation with American Theology Today." In this piece, Bender gives an overview of Barth's ecclesiology, which is shaped definitively both formally and materially by Christological commitments, and then provides a thorough summary and analysis of several recent critiques of Barth -- in particular, those offered by Robert Jenson, Joseph Mangina, Reinhard Hütter, Nicholas Healey and Stanley Hauerwas. By now the topography of these criticisms is well-traversed: e.g., that Barth underdevelops his pneumatology and subsumes it within his Christology; that Barth fails to treat adequately the embodied, historical life of the church -- including its doctrines and practices; and that he neglects the church as integral to the economy of salvation.

Ruins of Heptonstall Old Church by Tim Green
(wikimedia commons)
Bender's response, to be very terse, is to concede a certain lack of concreteness in Barth's ecclesiology -- albeit a problem that can be corrected from within Barth's own basic commitments. Bender also defends the Swiss theologian's Christocentric focus as a hedge against untoward, independent anthropological concerns creeping into dogmatics through the back door in treatments of the church and the Spirit. Bender has done his research and I find his responses to be generally persuasive.

The most interesting bits in this essay for me, though, came in the compact, two-page conclusion. Here Bender hones in on the issue of the freedom of God as a linchpin of Barth's ecclesiology. "Because of the freedom of God, the church's life, along with its doctrines and practices, cannot be directly identified with Christ's own action, or the Spirit tied in any way to the church so that this divine freedom is sacrificed" (63). This divine freedom was a keynote theme in Barth's remarks in his 1962 trip to the United States.

Nonetheless, as Bender argues, this divine freedom should not be abstracted from the equally crucial theme of God's faithfulness. Bender writes:

Barth's justified and outspoken emphasis on the freedom and lordship of God is so evident in his work that his quiet yet unshakable confidence in God's faithfulness is at times missed. It is a consideration of divine freedom without faithfulness that may be the reason some regard Barth's theology in general, and his ecclesiology in particular, as inherently unstable, occasionalistic, or ahistorical, and ultimately incapable of providing truly viable guidance and direction for an embodied ecclesial life (ibid).

It is this confidence in divine faithfulness, paired with divine freedom, Bender argues, that inoculated Barth from the kinds of furtive obsession with self-preservation that sorely tempts the churches amid modern cultural upheavals. Bender continues:

The search to alleviate this anxiety is nowhere as evident as in the search for a stable objectivity in both Protestant and Roman Catholic circles, an objectively attempted in the flight to irreformable dogma, an infallible church office or inerrant biblical text, an irrevocable ministry of historic apostolic succession or a hierarchically arranged ecumenical alliance (p. 63-64).

I wonder what other supposed spiritual verities the churches today would be willing to discard if we had the kind of confidence in the Spirit Barth commends.

==================================