Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Karl Barth and Laughing Angels

In one of his books, Pieter De Jong mentions that Karl Barth once said that the angels must laugh a lot. They laugh, said Barth, because he kept writing one volume after another about God, as though the Almighty could be captured in books.

They also laugh, he said, because other people would actually read and focus on what he was saying. Barth thought it was much more important for Christians to actually wrestle with the topics and questions that he was taking up, rather than to merely digest or repeat what he had to say about anything.

With no more than that, a new or continuing reader of Karl Barth can get a glimpse of two very important facets of the man and his work:

First, the part about the angels reveals how Barth, though a hard-working and serious theologian, never took himself or his own words too seriously. His writings certainly are dense and demanding. But the undertone is hardly ever dour and gloomy. It's usually something more like delightful.

Take, for example, the last sentence of the "Foreward to the Torchbook Edition" of his book Dogmatics in Outline: "He who, after learning a little about the meaning of 'dogmatics,' undertakes to delve more into detail, will, I promise, discover (regardless of the method he may employ) in this theological discipline and in theology in general a great amount of thrilling, and beautiful tasks which are fruitful for the Church and for the world." I love a teacher who thinks like that.

Second, the part about our wrestling with the questions points to Barth's conviction that in every successive period the church is obligated to question what has been said before and to identify and speak the truth in the language of that particular day.

The great historic Christian creeds, for example, show us how believers in earlier times worked through and answered the questions of their day. But even the best creeds and the greatest books do not relieve us from trying to do in our time what those good people did in theirs. Karl Barth believed that anytime the church speaks primarily in the language of decades or centuries gone by, you know that it has failed to take up its responsibility before God.

That's what he was all about, faithfully speaking the true Word of God in the language and to the situation(s) of his day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Blogging about Barth

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Karl Barth (1886-1968). In his fine little book, Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, Millard Erikson writes in his entry for "Barth, Karl":

Swiss theologian generally thought of as the founder of neo-orthodoxy. He may well be the most influential Protestant theologian of the twentieth century.

At this point, I'm planning to write a few things about him--his life and work and legacy. Maybe a thing or two will wind up getting published next year.

This post is my way of jump starting the process of my own study at a place where your feedback is possible. Already, I've posted a couple of things where I try to explain a bit about Karl, here and here.

Getting into this is kind of ironic for me. I don't really think of myself as a "Barthian" in any sense, although what Karl has to say usually resonates with me in some way or another.

At other times, I don't think I understand much of what he's talking about. So part of what's motivating me is an interest in getting a better idea of what Barth was saying, and what he was trying to accomplish. Also, if I wind up talking about him in print, it should be informed, right? Besides, I'm curious to go back and revisit the question, What's all the fuss about? Barth has always generated a tremendous response and reaction.

Anyway, what experiences have you had in reading Karl Barth? And what do you think are the most enduring contributions that he made?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Churches of Christ and Their Children

"Are we losing our young people?" That's the headline of the July issue of the Churches of Christ newspaper, The Christian Chronicle. The article quotes one of the best Church-of-Christ statisticians and observers, Flavil Yeakley. In the article, he passes along these facts:

1. In the U.S., about 45% of high school seniors leave the Churches of Christ after they leave home.

2. About 33% of all people who grew up in this group leave and never come back; about 12% drop out for a time and return later in life.

According to the campus ministers interviewed, many people who grew up among the Churches of Christ come to college unconverted, having been over-sheltered and under-challenged as young believers.

If you grew up attending a Church of Christ, does this seem like an accurate assessment?

Do the numbers quoted by Yeakley match up with what you have observed?

In what ways are Christian families and churches really building up their young people?

What are the areas where immediate families and church families should be doing so much better?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Gettin' Ready

In September, I'm supposed to deliver presentations (about 45 minutes each) at the San Jacinto Church of Christ on:

1. "The Unity of the Spirit"

2. "I Believe Because . . . "

I know, either of those could go on for at least the length of a book. The second title begs for some clarification. What is it that I believe? That God exists? That Jesus of Nazareth is uniquely the Son of God? That the Christian Bible is divine revelation?

I'm tempted, in the second lesson, to offer a critique (as stinging as I could make it) of Lockean evidentialist apologetics. . . . Nah.

In October, I'm speaking at the Comanche Trail Church of Christ on their annual "Friend Day." I wasn't assigned a topic for that one. I think I might speak about, what else, friends.

My question to you is, On these topics what books, articles, websites, insights can you recommend?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Summertime is Cousin Time

Last Sunday Michele and I drove home to Amarillo from Colorado Springs. We'd been there for the reunion of some extended family on Michele's side.

As God and the rest of us would have it, my sister Vicky and her family just moved to Colorado Springs. We decided that my nephews Wade (11) and Seth (6) would ride home with me and Michele to spend a few days in the Texas panhandle. We had a plan. The very next day my Ben (15) and Abigail (9) flew in from Arkansas where they'd been spending some time with their grandparents.

So this week the cousins are getting to spend some summertime fun together. Of course this means staying up late and sleeping in, Mario Kart tournaments and jumping on the trampoline, pillow fights, and one spitting contest that I know of (that last one being a strictly outdoor event). It seems like everyone's having quite a time.

Monday night, once the sun was out of roasting range and it began to cool off, we went to our big Memorial Park with a soccer ball, football, plenty of water, and our dog, Penelope. Red, sweaty, smiling faces at sundown meant everyone had had a good time. There was a cool breeze all evening, which meant we didn't have to deal with any bugs. Yea!

Yesterday afternoon everyone got to go swimming, complete with double dog dares to attempt a one-and-a-half off of the low board, etc. with equally-interesting results. And, yes, everyone started out by getting slathered with waterproof sunscreen; no one came home a crispy critter.

Last night we all went to see our Amarillo Dillas play baseball. It was a long game, with lots of hits and walks and double plays, a few hit batsmen, a couple of ejections, two home runs, a late rally by the Dillas (including a grand slam), and a bottom-of-the-ninth with the game-tying run on first.

The batter grounded out and, just like that, the game was over. It was a tough way to lose. But everyone in our group had been thoroughly entertained, all for $5 each and some over-priced popcorn and cokes.

I didn't grow up in a large extended family. But I know that there's something particularly cool about cousins. You're related to them, which means there's some of you in them and that can only be good. But because of distance, cousins aren't so familiar that they bug you like siblings often can and do. Someone said that a cousin is a ready-made friend for life.

Anyway, I think these cousins are having a ball and making some great memories this week. I'm glad I'm getting to watch them and enjoy it too.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Home Again

I decided not to say anything at the beginning, but now you know. I took a blog vacation for most of the last month. That's mainly because I spent a good bit of that time on the road and in the air:

June 15-23 in Connecticut, going to classes in the mornings when my kids were also in school, then hanging out with them the rest of the day. I also got to visit some of the churches I know in New England, etc.

The end of June and the first few days of July had me finishing up the summer course "Introduction to World Religions." The class was one of the best groups of students I've had so far, a real pleasure.

July 4-7, I took a quick trip to Couer D'Alene, ID to preside at the wedding of Lera Danley and A. J. Moore. Lera's sister, Stacie (I conducted her wedding too, nearly five years ago now) took some photos. Here's one of the big kiss on Flickr - Photo Sharing! I'm the one neither kissing nor being kissed. So why am I smiling so big? Because I'm just really happy for A. J. and Lera? Because it was 100 degrees and the ceremony was nearly over? Feel free to provide a caption.

July 10-15, we were in Colorado Springs, CO for the reunion of Michele's extended family. After much debate, I was narrowly voted in. Last Friday, we went to Denver to put Aubrey on a flight headed for Tidal River Christian Camp in Connecticut. And we got to spend some time walking around on downtown Denver's 16th Street mall. That's a neat place. If you know Boston, think "Quincy Market West."

Anyway, I'm back in Amarillo (where, for what it's worth, I plan to stay for quite some time). My nephews from Colorado are with us for the week, and my Ben and Abigail fly to Amarillo today. But I promise to show up here now and then, whenever I can.