We live in a world where the gap between scarcity and abundance grows wider every day. Whether at the level of nations or neighborhoods, this widening gap is polarizing people, making each camp more and more suspicious and antagonistic toward the other. But the peculiar thing, at least from a biblical perspective, is that the rich–the ones with the abundance–rely on an ideology of scarcity, while the poor–the ones suffering from scarcity–rely on an ideology of abundance. How can that be?
Taking his cue from Carl Henry’s 1947 The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Evangelical scholar J. Daryl Charles sets out in The Unformed Conscience of Evangelicalism to inject a moral corrective into the life of Evangelicalism. The author’s passion makes clear that he regards the current situation no less desperate than the lack of social concern Evangelicals faced in the 1940s. Where Henry worried about fundamentalism being reduced to a “tolerated cult status,” Charles warns that Evangelicals are in danger of devolving into a “large sect” that is irrelevant to the purposes of God and the needs of culture. A number of factors have contributed to the decline of Evangelical ethics.
Our late modern culture has become increasingly sensitive to the dangers of abusive structures and institutions that foster self-interest, domination, exploitation, and other forms of violence. Atonement theologies have followed this trend with an increasingly apprehensive stance toward traditional notions of covenant curse, divine justice and wrath, and penal substitution.
I will first ask you to contemplate a familiar point: the fantastic change that has come about in people’s situation in respect of having children because of the invention of efficient contraceptives. You see, what can’t be otherwise we accept; and so we accept death and its unhappiness. But possibility destroys mere acceptance. And so it is with the possibility of having intercourse and preventing conception. This power is now placed in a woman’s hands; she needn’t have children when she doesn’t want to and she can still have her man! This can make the former state of things look intolerable, so that one wonders why they were so pleased about weddings in former times and why the wedding day was supposed to be such a fine day for the bride.
It is easiest to tell what transubstantiation is by saying this: little children should be taught about it as early as possible. Not of course using the word “transubstantiation”, because it is not a little child’s word. But the thing can be taught, and it is best taught at mass at the consecration, the one part where a small child should be got to fix its attention on what is going on. I mean a child that is beginning to speak, one that understands enough language to be told and to tell you things that have happened and to follow a simple story. Such a child can be taught then by whispering to it such things as: “Look! Look what the priest is doing … He is saying Jesus’ words that change the bread into Jesus’ body. Now he’s lifting it up. Look! Now bow your head and say ‘My Lord and my God’,” and then “Look, now he’s taken hold of the cup. He’s saying the words that change the wine into Jesus’ blood. Look up at the cup. Now bow your head and say ‘We believe, we adore your precious blood, O Christ of God’.” [The cry of the Ethiopians at the consecration of the chalice.] This need not be disturbing to the surrounding people.
We end these thoughts on Holy Week where we began: with the central truth that what has taken place in the week that has passed, and what has taken place supremely at the event of the crucifixion is the outworking of the will of God. To the participants and bystanders, no doubt, everything seemed very far from that, just another muddle in a place inflamed with strife. And to the followers of Jesus, the little rag-tag caravan of men and women who found themselves attached to him, it was nothing short of disaster. Yet Isaiah speaks of the putting to death of the Lord’s servant as God’s will – as the outworking of the eternal purpose of God, as no accident but rather the placed where we are to learn to see God’s resolve, undeflected, undefeated, utterly effective. How can this be so? What is this divine resolve which is set before us here, in the affliction and grief of the servant of God?
Why do the Christian ethics of war and the law founded on it prohibit assassinations? Because assassination cannot be a true act of judgment. The logic of armed conflict is a logic of collective judgment on collective responsibility for wrong. War enacts justice between nations, taking over judgment, as the old saying had it,ubi iudicia cessant,where the courts run out. Its justice is attributive, denying the facility to do wrong, rather than vindicative, setting right old wrongs. As judgment it is pretty rough, lacking the detailed discernment to attribute personal responsibility.
The Christian answer to violence is that violence must be met with love. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44). And Paul instructs the Christians in Rome to “never avenge yourself, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21).
But the truth of the matter is that we find it difficult to love our enemy. It is highly unlikely that any of us would have invited bin Laden in for dinner if he had showed up at our door.
Barth grounds the goodness of creation not in its own independent reality, but in the goodness of Jesus Christ, who, as Barth works out in CD II.2, is the concrete form of the command of God and fulfillment of the covenant between God and humanity. By grounding the goodness of creation in Jesus Christ, Barth makes both the ontological goodness of creation itself and the noetic basis of that goodness dependent on this Christological determination. As a result, scholars have suggested that Barth’s theology really has no proper doctrine of creation at all, i.e. that Barth’s doctrine of creation is simply Christology in disguise.
This dissertation argues that while Barth’s Christological determination of creation is central to Barth’s work, it is not the case that Barth absorbs creation into Christology, i.e. nature into grace, leaving creation without any meaningful ontology of its own. Rather, this dissertation demonstrates that Barth’s ontology of creation is covenantal in structure, but not equivalent to Christology. Furthermore, this dissertation shows that this covenantal structure of creation is specifically ordered so that the creature may realize her goal as God’s covenant partner.