Karl Barth“We must realize that the Christian message does not at its heart express a concept or an idea, nor does it recount an anonymous history to be taken as truth and reality only in concepts and ideas.  Certainly the history is inclusive, i.e., it is one which includes in itself the whole event of the ‘God with us’ and to that extent the history of all those to whom the ‘God with us’ applies.  But it recounts this history and speaks of its inclusive power and significance in such a way that it declares a name, binding the history strictly and indissolubly to this name and presenting it as the story of the bearer of this name.  This means that all the concepts and ideas used in this report (God, man, world, eternity, time, even salvation, grace, transgression, atonement and any others) can derive their significance only from the bearer of this name from His history, and not the reverse.  They cannot have any independent importance or role based on a quite different prior interpretation.  They cannot say what has to be said with some meaning of their own or in some context of their own abstracted from this name.  They can serve only to describe this name–the name of Jesus Christ.” (Karl BarthChurch Dogmatics, 4.1, pp. 16-17)


MacDonald“Jesus is a king because his business is to bear witness to the truth. What truth? All truth; all verity of relation throughout the universe — first of all, that his father is good, perfectly good; and that the crown and joy of life is to desire and do the will of the eternal source of will, and of all life. He deals thus the death-blow to the power of hell. For the one principle of hell is — ‘I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return. My own glory is, and ought to be, my chief care; my ambition, to gather the regards of men to the one centre, myself. My pleasure is my pleasure. My kingdom is — as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness over them. My judgment is the faultless rule of things. My right is — what I desire. The more I am all in all to myself, the greater I am. The less I acknowledge debt or obligation to another; the more I close my eyes to the fact that I did not make myself; the more self-sufficing I feel or imagine myself — the greater I am. I will be free with the freedom that consists in doing whatever I am inclined to do, from whatever quarter may come the inclination. To do my own will so long as I feel anything to be my will, is to be free, is to live. To all these principles of hell, or of this world — they are the same thing, and it matters nothing whether they are asserted or defended so long as they are acted upon — the Lord, the king, gives the direct lie.” (George MacDonald, “Unspoken Sermons”)

O'Donovan“The conflict in which Jesus engaged and which led to his death was not the conflict of dualist myth between two independent realities, the ultimate principles of good and evil, but a conflict between the true and false forms of the one reality…The death of Christ shows us the outcome of the encounter between the true human life and the misshapen human life, between the order of creation as God gave it to be lived and known and the distorted and fantastic image of it in which mankind has lived.

The outcome of the encounter is that the false excludes the true.  The true participation of man in creation is brought abruptly to an end as the Son of man is put to death, deprived of the basic form of participation which is the precondition for other forms, his physical life.  We should not allow our shock at this wrong outcome to be dulled by what we know of its subsequent putting-right.  We confess that God reversed the crucifixion of the Son of man and vindicated the true against the false; but that does not alter the fact that the corrupted order had in itself the tendency and the capacity to destroy the uncorrupted, and so to defend itself against all correction or amendment.  We confess, too, that even in this destruction of the true by the false there lay in the counsel of God a deeper mystery, the mystery of representative judgment, so that man’s rebellion did not outrun the divine purpose even for the three days that Jesus lay in the tomb.  But that does not alter the fact that it proved impossible for the true to live alongside the false within the one world.  The meaning of the cross in itself, the meaning which is presupposed by all further meanings which it assumes in the light of the resurrection, is that joyful and obedient participation cannot continue freely in the world but must conflict with disobedience and so be driven out.  Apart from the further word of God in the resurrection, this hopeless word must be the last word.

When that further word is spoken, however, when the Son of man is vindicated and even his sufferings are shown to have served the divine purpose of setting right man’s wrong, that penultimate word is not simply forgotten.  We are not invited now to live in the created order as though there had been no cross.  The resurrection body of Christ bears nail-prints, and the life of those who follow him means taking up the cross.  The path to full participation lies through being excluded.

Discipleship, then, involves us in the suffering of exclusion from various forms of created good which are our right and privilege as Adam’s restored children.  This exclusion may be at the hands of others, who do not wish us to participate in those forms of life except on their terms; or it may be that our own fallen humanity does not equip us as it should to participate in these goods without compromise…They are called to accept exclusion from the created good as the necessary price of a true and unqualified witness to it…[The church] has not done its work unless it has learnt that the cross of Christ may demand a self-denial which no social norms, not even those of the church, can demand.  That moment of self-denial, when we prefer to forgot the created good which is our right rather than enjoy it on terms of compromise, is also a moment of knowledge, at which the good becomes clear and conspicuous to us as rarely ever besides.” (Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics, pp. 94-97)


“We can therefore speak of the double aspect of the church: realization of the Kingdom and instrument of the Kingdom.  Both aspects lose their character as soon as they isolate themselves from one another.  A static and introverted church, which refuses to be a servant, is for that reason no longer a realization of the Kingdom; however impressive her doctrine, liturgy, and organization may be, she has lost the heart of the matter.  A church which would be a mere dynamic, extroverted, activistic movement would not be the divine instrument, because it would not preach by its own existence; it would have no winning force; it would offer no home…The movement of the Spirit has an end; it is not an end in itself.  We witness to that which we have received in order that the other may also receive it.  What we have received is the communion with God, through Jesus Christ, that is our salvation.  At the same time communion means communication, participation in the blessings and in the tasks of the Kingdom.  In that Kingdom we are neither mere consumers nor mere laborers.  We consume in order to work, and we work in order that others may consume.” (Hendrikus Berkhof, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, pp. 39-41)

MLKWhile his “I Have A Dream Speech” is more famous and easily recognized, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” is widely (and rightly) considered the most profound and important piece of writing that ever came from his remarkable pen.  The whole thing can–and should, often–be read here.

Here are a few staggeringly powerful and increasingly relevant excerpts, the whole of which can serve as one of the most brilliant and illuminating commentaries ever written on Romans 12:9-21 and Matthew 5:38-48.  Thank God for this remarkable man and for what the Spirit did through him not so very long ago:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

“As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?”..You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so Continue Reading »

Ramsey“We do not know the whole fact of Christ incarnate unless we know his Church, and its life as part of His own life…the history of the Church and the lives of the saints are acts in the biography of the Messiah.” (Michael RamseyThe Gospel and the Catholic Church, cited in this wonderful essay by Tish Harrison Warren)

Hawthorne“Jesus was truly dependent upon the Holy Spirit, not for permission to use his own [divine] power, but for the very power itself with which he did his mighty works…By a preincarnate deliberate decision the eternal Son of God chose that all his intrinsic powers, all his attributes, would remain latent within him during the days of his flesh and that he would become truly human and limit himself to the abilities and powers common to all other human beings.  Therefore he depended upon the Holy Spirit for wisdom and knowledge and for power to perform the signs and wonders that marked the days of his years.

Thus, in answer to the question of how Jesus differed [cf. Hebrews 2:17, 4:15] from other people who depended upon the Spirit for the extra in their lives, it is possible to answer that in terms of his humanness it differed in essentially no way.  By this I mean that God the Son, who became flesh in Jesus, became a real human being, and as such he needed the Spirit’s power to lift him out of his human restrictions, to carry him beyond his human limitations, and to enable him to do the seeming impossible.  To be sure, only of Jesus was it said that the Father gave to him the Spirit ‘without measure.’  To be sure, the Spirit met with no natural resistance in Jesus as in those of us whose lives have been hardened and scarred by sin.  To be sure the Spirit—his influence and guidance—was always central and perfect in Jesus, while this is never so in all others of us.  But apart from these differences, which certainly are considerable, Jesus was nevertheless a human being commissioned to do the will of God in this world, and filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring it all to a successful completion.  Thus, Jesus Christ becomes an object lesson, the source of tremendous encouragement and hope for every believer who studies his life and aspires to emulate him.” (Gerald F. Hawthorne, the concluding remarks to The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus, pp. 218-19)