Meaningful life does not come via a powerful person we happen to know but through a weak and powerless friend who freely gives of himself.
How often do we boast of the rich and powerful people we have brushed up against or met in a chance encounter? And yet, these are not the people who can really shape us or give definition to life. The people who define us are those who may not have money or fame to give but who freely give of themselves. And we do not have to go looking for these people or stand around hoping they will notice us. They are right in front of us. They live all around us. They are the weak and wounded, the broken and powerless. We miss them while we stand craning our necks to see the famous person pass by or when we pretend to be the rich and powerful. Meaningful life comes as we find each other at Christ’s table, offering life to each other. In such humility and friendship, we give and receive from one another the transforming life of Christ.
If the question what God can do forces theology to be humble, the question what is commanded of us forces it to concrete obedience. God may speak to us through Russian Communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog. We do well to listen to Him if He really does. CD, I,1 p. 55.
With certainty Barth believes in the primacy of the Word of God as made known to us through preaching, the sacraments, scripture, and ultimately in Jesus Christ. And yet, he steadfastly maintains that God is free to reveal Himself however He wishes – even through a dead dog. Our concern must be that no matter how He speaks, we are to humbly listen and obey.
Revelation, if and how it comes to us, is not the crucial question. Rather, the question for you and me, whether we are a theologian, nurse, farmer, welder, or teacher, is will we or will we not obey. For most of us, we have already heard too much and obeyed too little. God speaks, and we do well to listen. And above all we do well to respond with concrete obedience to what we have heard.
By the way … at this point, Barth is only opening his discussion, and thus, we can be sure he does not leave it to a dead dog to speak the Word of God.
“Language, like tobacco, is habit forming. Some patterns of writing and speaking are addictive and may damage both the user and others who breathe the same linguistic atmosphere.”
-Brian Wren, What Language Shall I Borrow? (London: SCM, 1989), 83, cited in J. Sørensen, Missiological Mutilations (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2007), 29.
See the continuation of Vinoth Ramachandra’s thoughts on ‘More on Rethinking Mission’.
As I begin 2010, I am overwhelmed by God’s grace and compassion.
I may at times think myself as wholly good, kind, and benevolent, but I know who I really am. Many times I justify or defend my actions and responses, but my motives are quite clear to me. I am capable of lies and thus at times seek to deceive, but the truth seems to find me out. While I may be a man who tries to do good, love others, and live the truth, I fall short and thus must continually look to and rely upon the grace and compassion of God.
I am reading for the third time Christopher J. H. Wright’s The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (2006). As I read through the first section this morning, I recalled how Wright’s reframing of mission first impacted me in 2006. My comment at that time was that he turned my biblical/theological understanding of mission on its head – the way I look at scripture and how I talk about mission could never be the same. I do not agree with Wright at every point, and yet, I wholeheartedly affirm the manner in which he approaches the Bible and mission and the fresh, holistic understanding of mission he offers the church.
It is extremely urgent that the church reexamine its encounter with the world and rethink how it is to participate in God’s mission. If you have not read Wright, take the time to work through this tome (535 pages of text). I know some of you have purchased The Mission of God, and it sits on your shelf, partially or totally unread (because I have seen it sitting there). Pull it down, open it up, and begin working your way carefully and thoughtfully through each section. Of all the things you might do in the next six months, reading Wright might be the most formative and impactful.
I found the following in Jehu Hanciles, Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West (Orbis, 2008), to be an interesting qualification regarding globalization and worldwide connectivity.
“Undoubtedly, Internet users worldwide remain a privileged elite-in 2006 global usage was still under 16 percent. But Internet usage is lowest in Africa, where only 2.6 percent of the population are users-compared to 10 percent for Asia, 10 percent for the Middle East, and 67 percent for the United States. The disparity is even more obvious when it is considered that, though it accounts for 14 percent of the world’s population, the African continent is home to only 2.3 percent of Internet users worldwide.” (27)
The worldwide web is not so worldwide and certainly will not replace, in the near future, other means of human communication and interaction. I guess pulling a chair up and talking face-to-face with another person is here to stay!
What if I come to the end of this day safe and secure, and yet have not risk with a situation or a person? What if I conclude this day feeling good, happy, and satisfied, and yet at no time felt pain, discomfort, or disgust? What if I walk through this day fulfilled and complete in myself, and yet have not given a portion of my money, time, or self to another. Then surely I have passed through this day but have not lived.
Regarding clergy and the kind of gospel preached two centuries ago, Søren Kierkegaard noted:
A nimble, adroit, lively man, who in pretty language, with the utmost ease, with graceful manners … knows how to introduce a little Christianity, but easily, as easily as possible. In the New Testament, Christianity is the profoundest wound that can be inflicted upon a man, calculated on the most dreadful scale to collide with everything- and now the clergyman has perfected himself in introducing Christianity in such a way as it signifies nothing, and when he is able to do this to perfection he is regarded as a paragon. But this is nauseating! Oh, if a barber has perfected himself in removing the beard so easily that one hardly notices it, that’s well enough; but in realtion to that which is precisely calculated to wound, to perfect oneself so as to introduce it in such a way that if possible it is not noticed at all- that is nauseating. -Søren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon “Christendom”, 258.
“He who loves the dream of a Christian community more than the community itself, often does great damage to that community, no matter how well-intentioned he might be.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quoted in David Bosch, Transforming Mission, 387.