Tag Archive: Barth

What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   Is this one way to embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, now our mouths…

Taste and see that the Lord is good

In one of his most important works, the 20th century German theologian Karl Barth wrote of the “strange new world within the bible.”  He suggested that we should not read the bible like we read the daily newspapers or the New York Times bestsellers.  Yes, the bible is only a book, but yet it so much more.  The bible contains the words of God, words that tell of God’s love.  The bible reveals God’s heart, a heart that is most visible in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

When we read scripture we often think, “How pleasant.  How lovely.  How uplifting.” And the Bible certainly is!  Jesus speaks of rest, redemption, forgiveness – the very things we need so desperately in our world.  But then we read further and think, “How demanding!  Is Jesus serious?”  Jesus says wonderfully comforting things like, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).  And then he immediately adds in the next sentence, “Sell all your possessions, and give to the needy” (Lk. 12:33).  Jesus comforts the tired and weary, and then demands cross-bearing of all disciples.  Jesus offers rest and then calls us to action.  The words of Jesus are so sweet, and yet after further digestion they seem bitter, daunting, and challenging.

A view of Patmos from the cave where tradition says John wrote Revelation

John, writing the book of Revelation from the island of Patmos has a similar response to the words offered to him by an angel.  He writes, “So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.’  I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour” (Rev. 10:9-10).

Why might the words of scripture, even the words we cling to in tough moments, seem unsettling over time?  Perhaps the change comes when we realize that the bible doesn’t simply say back to us the things we think we know.  So often, we fashion its words in ways that are pleasing and acceptable to us – sweet to us, we might say.  But then we realize that the strange world of the bible doesn’t simply echo back to us our own prejudices, biases, and presuppositions.  The bible provides us new words, new meanings, and a new way of speaking and living.

Like John, we take in the words of scripture, chewing on them, digesting them, allowing them to transform our lives.  And then, as Barth wrote, “The spirit of God will and must break forth from quiet hearts into the world outside, that it may be manifest, visible, and comprehensible…The Holy Spirit makes a new heaven and new earth and, therefore, new [wo]men, new families, new relationships, new politics.”

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”  – Psalm 34:8


Is “Salvation by grace through faith” unique to Christianity?

In chapter six Tennent prompts a discussion a seminary student would love.  He enticingly asks, “Is the Christian emphasis on grace dramatically different from other religions’ doctrines?”  Is grace a universally understood and accepted idea?  Immediately, Calvin and Arminius or Presbyterians and Methodists come to mind.  Tennent, however, points to a similar debate happening within branches of Hinduism (Vadagalais and Tengalais).  Also, Tennent highlights the Japanese Jodu Shin Shu (True Pure Land); a stream of Mahayana Buddhism Karl Barth called “Japanese Protestantism” (137).

True Pure Land emerged in 13th century AD by the Buddhist reformer Shinran Shonin.  This “Japanese Protestantism,” Tennent claims, parallels the soteriological claims made by so many Western Christians.  Shinran recognizes the helplessness of the human condition and humanity’s desperate cry for grace.  However, while a doctrine of “salvation by grace through faith” does exist in Buddhism, it is an incomplete Christian understanding of the phrase according to Tennent.

Does this conclusion mean Christians have the market cornered on grace, faith, and salvation?  Tennent allows for the possibility that True Pure Land is in total error.  Perhaps the void of Christ and God’s redemptive acts in grace-filled non-Christian religions negates the whole of their existence.  Yet, in that case are we to shun all of it?  Could we not still acknowledge that the True Pure Land is an example of the truth that God “has not left himself without testimony?” (Acts 14.17).  Tennent concludes that the lesson we should learn from Shinran is to expect doctrines of grace in other religions, and not be surprised by them” (158).

Chapter six left me a little disappointed.  Tennent failed to offer many definitive or insightful statements.  Many questions remained unanswered.  What if we find grace in other religions?  Is that an avenue to talk about the grace of Christ?  Do we settle to know that “grace” is to be found apparent from the Christian witness?  What is the source of the other grace?  My hopes for chapter six were not met, and I finished the chapter with more confusion than clarity.

This is the sixth review in an eleven-part series looking at Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the context of World Christianity.

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