Neurotheology Versus Psychotheology: Does Enlightenment Promote Moral Idiocy?

Building a playhouse for my children I ran a rusty nail into my hand; I was being cheap and trying to reuse nails. The next day, in the midst of teaching, I noticed the veins in my arms had turned a bright red.  I clearly had blood poisoning. A trip to the local doctor cured the blood poisoning but he sent me to the university hospital where they let me in on some terrible news. My blood platelets were over-sized and too few. They told me I could not risk travelling into Tokyo on the train and that I would have to cease working and check into the hospital in the next few days. They made it fairly clear my time was up. They didn’t give us a clear diagnosis but Faith, my wife, and I narrowed it down to two possibilities, both of which were irreversibly fatal. So, I stayed home and began to feel the weight of death descend. I did indeed feel my energy running out. I began to shuffle about the house, moving slowly as life seemed to be ebbing away. Continue reading “Neurotheology Versus Psychotheology: Does Enlightenment Promote Moral Idiocy?”

I AM ONE OF YOU FOREVER

Flying over the desert of an evening, around Window Rock, over the Grand Canyon, the cool breeze a necessity for equilibrium and the star lit sky preferable for navigation; this was my singular capacity. With the veil of darkness, the arms pumping and as I gained confidence, the leap into a canyon or off a tall building (nearly absent in Page, Arizona) and I could just manage to obtain lift-off. Continue reading “I AM ONE OF YOU FOREVER”

Escaping an Evil Christianity: Must Theological Education Go Underground?

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One of the unnamed capacities of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was to recognize evil and to call it out at a time when others preferred not to confront it and attempted to explain it away.  As a young pastor he was one of the few who took an early public stance against Hitler and a Nazified Christianity.  Hitler was able to manipulate Christian rhetoric and combine it with a threat which caused German Christians to mostly embrace the evil of National Socialism. Even Martin Niemöller, the head of the Confessing Church, was at first pro-Hitler and, like the majority of his countrymen, anti-Semitic. Niemöller later recognized his own moral failure and described it poetically:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. 

The difference between a Bonhoeffer and a Niemöller, as captured in the poem, is found in the capacity or lack thereof to identify with the oppressed – and to not be blinded by ideology.  The capacity to name and recognize evil is enabled when self-justifying ideology is set aside and we can say though I am not a Socialist, Trade Unionist, mentally handicapped, Jewish, Hispanic – or simply though this is some Other that is being oppressed – this is evil.  The willingness to turn a blind eye or to embrace evil for the “greater good” describes Niemöller’s moral failure, the moral failure of most German Christians and the moral failure of a Christianity given over to ideology.

James Strauss referred to the slow infiltration of the “principalities and powers” into the Church as the frog in the kettle syndrome. The frog is happy to sit in the warm water and misses the fact that he is adjusting gradually to being boiled to death.  There are many indicators that the boiling point of the cultural waters of North America is killing off effective Christian witness.  David Kinnaman[1] has described the statistical fact that Christians are perceived by the younger generation as un-Christian (in every way that counts) as an “image problem.”  Perhaps it is more of a “boiling frog” problem.  The oxymoronic (and yet statistically proven) perception of a “violent Christianity,” an “exclusive Christianity,” or a “hateful Christianity,” indicates the adjectival heat of the ideological powers are boiling away the vital signs of the subject.  “American Christianity” is as oxymoronic as “Nazi Christianity,” “Imperial Japanese Christianity,” or “Constantinian Christianity,” with the sole difference that the former is the extant mantra of a church being stewed in ideology.

The example of Bonhoeffer indicates that moral insight arises with intellectual depth.  On the other hand, moral inanity was clearly connected to an intellectual banality (exemplified in Eichmann and characterized by Hannah Arendt as the “banality of evil”).  The majority of Bonhoeffer’s Christian contemporaries, steeped as they were in German nationalism, were unable to recognize the Devil that was about to consume them.  They succumbed to the boiling stew of anti-Semitism, Aryanism, and fear, that resulted in Hitler gaining power, first in the church, and two months later with the Nazi takeover. Bonhoeffer’s theological sophistication (an ecclesiology and hermeneutic that resulted in both his resistance and death) stood in sharp contrast to the “realism” and “pragmatism” to which even the leaders of the Confessing Church succumbed.  Niemöller thought, until it was too late, that Hitler was a man that could be reasoned with if he could only secure a private meeting.  The pragmatists bent to the “realities” orchestrated by Hitler until, as Niemöller describes, they literally came to arrest him.

Pragmatism always describes the willingness to bend to the perceived necessity and reality of the time.  By this measure biblical Christianity will always be perceived as unworkable and impractical.  Practical Theology, the buzzword of the day, names the tendency to accommodate the revolutionary notions of Scripture to a “workable reality.”  Much like Nazi theology (or that theology set forth by the German Christian (Deutsche Christens) supporters of Hitler), which elected to remove the Old Testament from the Bible, a theology made “practical” begins by separating the New Testament from the Old and thus spiritualizes the political and social revolution Christ inaugurated.  By getting rid of the Old Testament the Jews were expunged from the German church and by the same token a disembodied/depoliticized Christianity is fused with American nationalism.  The stew of pragmatism boiling the North American Church (the remnants of Niebuhr’s Christian realism, nationalism, capitalist greed, the philosophy of church growth, etc.) are accommodated by a morally and intellectually disengaged gnostic-like theology.  Dispensationalism, Christian realism (a violent “Christianity), fundamentalism/liberalism, supersessionism, give rise to a thorough dualism or split between body and soul, heaven and earth, interior and exterior.  The result, in N. T. Wright’s summary, comes to be “God so hated the world that he killed his only Son,” and Christians act accordingly.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from Bonhoeffer’s mode of resistance it will take account of his theological development and his focus on theological education in a Church being decimated by bad theology.  His Cost of Discipleship arises from teaching on the Sermon on the Mount during a period in which Finkenwalde seminary is closed, his students are being arrested, and he is declared to be “a pacifist and enemy of the state.”

His theological insight is one that overcomes the separation of the teaching of Jesus and the theology of Paul brought about in a Constantinian Christianity and sealed by Luther’s notion of justification by faith.  Bonhoeffer envisions a Church that is able to resist Lutheran/Constantinian/Nazi notions of a necessary violence in which God’s will is worked out through heads of state and state purposes.  He recognized that justification is not merely a private affair of going to heaven when you die, but is centered on social concerns (life together as the Church) which call for a radical and costly discipleship.  In John Howard Yoder’s explanation (which seems to extend Bonhoeffers understanding of Paul), Paul builds upon Jesus notion of love of enemies and nonviolent revolution through a revolutionary subordination.  Mutual subordination of husbands and wives, masters and slaves, parents and children, was meant to revolutionize the institutions of marriage, social relations, and family structure, through the culture of the Church.  Likewise, subordination to the state, the same Roman state that crucified Jesus and which would behead Paul, was to recognize God’s purpose would be realized through the Church and that the idolatry of the state was to be resisted.  The Church is made up of those conformed to God’s character (Ro. 12:1-2) and not “content to go on allowing themselves to be continually stamped afresh with the stamp of this age which is passing away.”

Thus, Bonhoeffer goes underground and continues to teach when and where he can meet with his students.  His final moves as a pastor at large were to foster a theology, through ministerial training, that would endure the times.  The Pastors of the German Church had caved in to Nazism, with only some 20% abandoning the corrupted or “destroyed church” for the Confessing Church.  Perhaps it is too heavy handed to draw parallels between “Nazi Christianity” and “American Christianity,” but the same danger prevails; that of conforming to the spirit of the age rather than to the character of God.  To ward off that danger will call for an alternative theological understanding which can be freely set forth in an educational environment that is not subject to pragmatism.

Among the Christian Churches, James DeForest Murch warned that ministerial training was consistently undermined by notions of “efficiency” (read pragmatism) and “feeble rivalry” with State institutions.  R. C. Foster notes that apostasy sets in at the fifty-year mark: “Fifty years is a good round number, but we should remember that man’s apostasy began in the Garden of Eden.” Nonetheless, 50 years “is a fairly accurate estimate of the critical period of apostasy in our colleges.” As the Bible College movement among Christian Churches reaches this fifty-year mark, Foster’s prediction rings true. As Cincinnati Christian University, the school Foster helped found, has drifted from its moorings toward the brink of failure, the Bible college movement itself, among Christian Churches/Churches of Christ seems to be in crisis, as the majority of the regional Bible colleges have either closed their doors or have been absorbed by larger schools with a broader agenda.

The institution from which I was recently terminated (as the last Ph.D. on the faculty) celebrated its first fifty years as it has gone into, what would appear to be, its final years.  As with Cincinnati Christian University, the termination of employees marks the drift of the school.  The termination of full-time faculty teaching Bible and theology is simultaneous with the rise of a “variety” of degree offerings and activities.  The intellectual and theological failure is marked by the same moral failure described by Peter Enns: “Under the high-lofted banner of ‘defending the gospel,’ backroom politicking, gossip, maligning the character of their enemies, lying, vengeance, and even destroying people’s livelihoods are excused as regrettable yet necessary tactics.” One of the saddest occasions I witnessed is when the founding faculty were simultaneously honored with the status of emeritus and terminated as full-time faculty.  The pride in being “practical” and anti-theological leaves in its wake a near complete ignorance of the provenance of the Constantinian “evangelical doctrine” and philosophy of “church growth” that is promoted.  Theological education has not yet been driven underground but the education that survives seems to be stamped with the spirit of the age.

The experience of American army chaplain, Henry Gerecke, who ministered to the Nuremberg war criminals epitomizes the problem.  Several of his congregation, made up of the German high command responsible for the worst crimes in human history, lived and died as faithful Lutherans. Where practical concerns rule, “Nazi Christians,” “American Christians,” or, most oxymoronic but to the point, “evil Christians” will be the result.  A theology centered on Christ aimed at a real-world departure from the pragmatics of a Constantinian/American/Nazi “Christianity” will, likely, require a new paradigm of theological education which is not dependent on the spirit/ideology of the age.

As we are approaching our 2nd anniversary Forging Ploughares and Ploughshares Bible Institute Looks back to key moments and shaping events which brought about our effort to found a new sort of theological education.

 

[1]Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters

Escaping Law and Order Christianity: From Interpassivity to Intervention into the Law

In Tibetan Buddhism the supplicant writes his prayers or mantra on a piece of paper and attaches the prayer to a prayer wheel and spinning the wheel is the equivalent of chanting the mantra or saying the prayer. The prayer wheel does the chanting or praying and one is freed up to think of other things. Slavoj Žižek compares it to the laugh track on television sit coms. It is not simply that hearing the laughter you will know this is a funny joke, but the laugh track does the laughing for you. Just as the prayer wheel prays for you, or ancient weepers could be hired to weep at the funeral for you, the laugh track relieves you of the effort of laughing. The story is told that a visitor to the house of the famous scientist, Niels Bohr, upon seeing a lucky horseshoe said to Bohr that he was surprised that such a great man would believe such nonsense. Bohr snapped back: “I also do not believe in it; I have it there because I was told that it works even if one does not believe in it!” The act of hanging the horseshoe relieves one of having to directly believe – it is enough to have nailed it to the wall. This is the way religion works in Japan: if you would interrupt someone at their prayers at a shrine and ask if they believe in the religion, they would likely deny that they are in any way religious. Belief is not a necessary part of the religion as the rituals, the priests, the regular observances, relinquish one of having to directly believe. Robert Pfaller has coined the term “interpassivity” to capture the paradox of this distancing of the self from one’s own beliefs. What one does – nailing the horseshoe, spinning the prayer wheel, employing weepers or laughers – frees from direct engagement in what one is doing. There is relief from the superego injunction to obey, to believe, to enjoy, which is, of course, Paul’s picture of our orientation to the law. There is an incapacity of the “I” or will which arises in this internal distancing – “I am not able to do what I want,” Paul says. Continue reading “Escaping Law and Order Christianity: From Interpassivity to Intervention into the Law”

The Pleasure of Hurting Others Through the Law

In psychoanalysis there is a technical term for someone who is incapable of questioning the law and whose entire effort is aimed at establishing the law. This sort of individual disavows any inadequacy or the notion of anything lacking in the law and wants to ensure that the law is fulfilled or completed.  Completing or establishing the law may involve her own or others’ transgression which results in punishment.  It is precisely through punishment that the law is “felt” to be established and that pleasure is derived.  This pleasure is found in the fact that “the Law is doing it” so that the immediate suffering/pleasure is the assurance the Law is being served/serviced. Children torn from their mothers’ breast, wailing at the border, are a living proof that the border laws are effectively established. The Law knows no tolerance as zero tolerance serves to define the sharp and absolute edge of this autonomous god-like force. Continue reading “The Pleasure of Hurting Others Through the Law”

Denying Suicide the Last Word Through Agape Love

The force which would cause us to put the rope around our own neck, I assume, is not distinct from the nihilistic darkness which assails everyone from without. The darkness within and without, that is, are presumably of a piece – the dysfunctional family, the real-world loneliness and alienation, vexing cruelty, or the seeming pointlessness of everything, converge with our inward bent. Or are depression and despair an untreatable and untraceable interior experience? The suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both of whom had reached the heights of success in their respective fields, might seem to mystify suicide – to contradict the notion that suicidal despair is traceable or circumstantial. Bourdain’s mother, Gladys Bourdain, told The New York Times: “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this.” But Bourdain and Spade belonged to a world – food and fashion – which not only does not lend itself to giving voice to despair, neither provides an inherent counter voice.  Food and fashion, the world of the aesthete in Kierkegaardian terms, may not have provided the impetus to continue to get up in the morning. The despair of the human condition is neither articulated nor addressed but is accommodated in aesthetic pursuits. It is not that Bourdain or Spade did not have reason to kill themselves. The futile desire which grips us all is unquenchable, but chefs and fashion designers depend upon this desire for their livelihood, and perhaps, in this instance, for their life?   Continue reading “Denying Suicide the Last Word Through Agape Love”

The Feminine as Salvation: Becoming the Bride of Christ

In the Gospel of John women, more readily than men, come to faith and seem better positioned than men to confess and serve the Messiah. The longest conversation occurs with a woman, the most profound and earliest confession is that of a woman. The example of humble service, which Jesus is trying to teach his male disciples, is first grasped and enacted by a woman. The women, which John notes “Jesus loved,” outnumber the men. It is women who first come to the empty tomb and who first encounter the risen Jesus. It is a woman who is the first mass evangelist and it is a woman, his Mother, who first prompts the inauguration of Jesus miraculous ministry and who is witness to the end of that ministry. Some of his final words concern this woman and her care. Continue reading “The Feminine as Salvation: Becoming the Bride of Christ”

John’s Cosmic Reconstitution: Redemption as Overcoming Dualism

The human disease presents itself in a variety of oppositional dualities – darkness versus light, good versus evil, flesh versus spirit, such that the seeming cure would be in reconciling these differences. “Oppositional dualities,” however, are not “dualisms” in which the opposed pairs are equally real and stable and forever needing to be harmonized.  The Star Wars “dark” and “light” sides of the Force typify this Gnostic sort of dualism, in which evil is pictured as a competing reality with the good. In this world (cosmos), good and evil or life and death constitute a “reality” of struggling between opposed pairs. Life is consumed in an agonistic striving toward balance, but the illusion –  producing suffering and death, is that engaging the struggle more intensely is the means of resolving the struggle. This peace through war or life through death antagonism not only misconstrues the power and substance of war and death but loses life and peace in the process.  Simply stated, the human failing is to confuse reality with unreality, setting up an antagonistic struggle to the death. John’s Gospel, defines the cosmos of darkness through a series of oppositional dualities which are precisely not dualisms, as John will reduce and collapse one pole of the opposed pairs. In a closed cosmos (in which the cosmic reality is all encompassing) oppositional forces, in David B. Hart’s description, constitute “an economy, a cycle of creation and destruction, oscillating between order and chaos, form and indeterminacy: a great circle of feeding, preserving life through a system of transactions with death.” Hierarchy, law, and sacrifice are aimed at warding off chaos through maintaining a rigid balance. In John, the Logos explodes this cosmos of darkness in that the light will penetrate and expose the darkness, life will defeat death, heaven will come to earth, and the children of the Devil will become the children of God. The evil, fleshly, world below is not an enduring autonomous reality but is exposed and defeated so that the apparent dualisms are exposed as mere oppositional dualities.  Continue reading “John’s Cosmic Reconstitution: Redemption as Overcoming Dualism”

Judas versus Jesus: Salvation’s Confrontation with Sin

The judgment in the “trial” of Jesus is not a pronouncement by Pilate concerning Jesus (Pilate refuses to pronounce judgment and refuses to actually have a formal trial)[1] but Jesus pronouncement that “he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin” (Jn 19:11, NASB). The significance of this “he” and of his sin of “delivering” Jesus is that it encompasses the ultimate sin or the culminating point of sin.  Pilate, Rome (the world of Gentiles), Judas, the Jewish priests, the Jews, and Satan are all involved in the “delivering up of Jesus unto death.”  John equates this delivering up with darkness, with Satan entering into Judas, with the uncleanness that clings to the Apostles in the form of the betrayer. Jesus is delivered over to the Gentiles or Romans through the Jews by means of an Apostle, such that every class of human is involved in this deliverance. Darkness, sin, death, uncleanness, and evil, are encompassed in the movement which delivers Jesus unto death. Judas starts the chain reaction of “delivering” or “handing over” (παραδίδωμι) in which he “hands over” Jesus to the Jews (Mark 14: 10), who in their turn “bound Him, and led Him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor” (Math. 27:2). The Jews picture their handing him over as a self-evident sign of guilt: “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have handed him over to you” (John 18: 30; cf. also Mark 15: 1 and Matthew 27: 2). At the end of the trial Pilate will hand Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified. Judas though is the “betrayer” (ho paradidous) or the one whose entire identity is marked by this “handing over” (Mark 3: 19, “Judas Iscariot, who handed him over (hos kai paredōken auton),” and in Matthew 10: 14, “Judas Iscariot, the one who handed him over (ho kai paradous auton).” Once Jesus is delivered into “the hands of men,” into the hands of the high priests, into the hands of the Gentiles, the momentum toward the crucifixion is a foregone conclusion.

Isn’t the decision of Pilate, the role of Herod and the High Priests, the work of Rome, the important element of the handing over? The death drive which would consume Jesus would seem to concentrate itself at the end of the process.  Something as insignificant as a kiss, as inconsequential as 30 pieces of silver, as trifling as a little greed, sets the more important forces of Israel and Rome into motion. But this kiss, as Karl Bath says, “attests and seals again the fellowship of the perpetrator with Jesus.”[2] That is the darkness to be penetrated, the orientation toward death which needs overcoming, the evil to be defeated, cuts through the Apostles and is represented by Judas.  Judas is not only of Judah and Israel but is of Jesus and the Apostles and it precisely this proximity to Jesus that serves to identify the gravest depth of sin: “he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

Judas is participating in the last supper with the other Apostles when Jesus makes it clear that the worst form of guilt is that of the betrayer: “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”[3]It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”[4] It is odd that this great sinner, this one who sums up the worst sort of sin as the betrayer, is so much a part of the apostolic band that they cannot distinguish him. When Jesus notes that the betrayer is among those with whom he is breaking bread, the Apostles “began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking.”[5] Mathew pictures each of the disciples as vocally questioning if they personally will betray him: “Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’”[6] They seem to each see within themselves the possibility which resides in Judas.

It is in conjunction with this disclosure that Jesus washes the disciple’s feet. When Peter protests, “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’”[7] When Peter insists upon a complete bath, Jesus explains, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.[8] The wholly clean still need to have their feet washed and what they are washed of, the uncleanness which still resides among them, is represented by Judas. Jesus cleanses their feet – they are wholly clean – yet they will have to continue in this service which Jesus renders to remain clean. That is, this service and what it represents directly addresses the Judas’ orientation of which they all need cleansing. The uncleanness of Judas, as it exists among all the Apostles, is particularly represented in the story by Peter.

Peter’s denial of Christ indicates a failure, not only morally like that of Judas, but a similar failure of comprehension.  All of the apostles are included in the foot-washing and Peter’s and Judas’ failure both unfold from this point in the story. The specific element which both Peter and Judas fail to recognize, maybe from different ends of the same spectrum, is that Jesus intends the foot-washing to symbolize or foreshadow his self-giving in death. The threat of death has been hanging over the disciples from the time they all went up to Bethany and Jesus raised Lazarus. Death is on all of their minds, following the fatalistic lead of Thomas, who determined for all of them to “go, so that we may die with Him.”[9]  He has already explained that the foot-washing is a model of humble service, but this is something Jesus explains to the disciples immediately (13:12-17). The foot washing is incomprehensible to them because they have yet to link sacrificial service to death. It must be death as part of this self-giving to which Jesus refers when he tells Peter he will only comprehend the action later (13:7). Peter would block Jesus from going up to Jerusalem to die and Judas would bargain his way out of being counted among those who would die. They are consistently uncomprehending or unwilling to grasp what it might mean for Jesus, let alone themselves, to take up the cross.

After the foot-washing, Peter seems eager to press the point and to show that he has made the connection: “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.”[10] We know from Peter’s actions at the arrest of Jesus that he would lay down his life in battle – taking as many ears as he can in the process. He would die the death of any good zealot – perhaps in the sort of final battle Judas and all the apostles imagine for Jesus. Peter’s words parallel those Jesus has used earlier, not once but twice, when describing his own role as the good shepherd (“the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” – Jn 10:11,15). Jesus answers Peter by repeating Peter’s words as a question: “Will you lay down your life for Me?” (13:38). Peter’s claim reflects a reversal of the shepherd-sheep relationship Jesus has outlined earlier in the Gospel. Peter will fall into the hired hand category despite his best efforts: “He who is a hired hand . . . sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.”[11] The note of irony in Jesus’ voice must have been obvious as he repeats Peter’s words: “Will you lay down your life for Me?”

Judas, meanwhile, is fulfilling the treachery depicted in Zechariah 11, in which the sheep of Israel are pictured as standing in solidarity against the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd, God himself, is sold for thirty pieces of silver and the people of Israel and Judah are handed over to the shepherds which would bring on their slaughter.

Judas is consistently depicted as devil possessed or as the devil himself and his work is associated with the darkness.  After the morsel of the last supper is handed to him, “Satan then entered into him”[12] and “after receiving the morsel he went out immediately into the night.”[13] Paul too will connect his deed to darkness: “in the night in which He was betrayed.”[14] Jesus calls him “the son of perdition”[15] and “a devil.”[16] On the other hand, Jesus identifies Peter with Satan – precisely when Peter would obstruct Jesus from going up to Jerusalem to die (Math. 16:23).

So, the sin of handing over Jesus is focused on Judas, but Peter and the Apostles, Israel, Judah, and the Jews, have all played their part in this handing over. Judas seems to represent what Israel has always done: the Israelites would hand Joseph over to death, they would, like Esau, sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. In the midst of the trial they would not only buy and sell the Messiah but proclaim their true king is Caesar. As Jesus says, the tradition (παράδοσιν – that which is handed down) has nullified their religion. Theirs is Yahweh religion in which Yahweh is nullified; it is messianic religion which would kill the messiah. But this sin of the Jews distilled in Judas is precisely that addressed and undone in the economy of salvation.

The very point and substance of salvation is found in God’s handing over of Jesus, not as an extension of darkness and evil, but to dispel the darkness, to overcome death, to free the captives who Paul describes as being themselves “handed over” to their own lusts. “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”[17] The lie and lust of the first couple is repeated in their progeny and this seems to have culminated in the “son of perdition” who would sell Jesus for 30 coins. It is precisely in the midst of this handing over that God also “delivered Him over for us all.”[18] That is the confrontation between Jesus and Judas is precisely the point where the light confronts the darkness, where the devil would do his worst, where evil would kill the Son of Glory, and where God would absorb this handing over, defeat it and reverse it. As Barth describes it, the situation between Jesus and Judas is only a heightened form of the situation between Jesus and all men. This is illustrated in the one who would continue the apostleship of Judas.

The place of Judas is taken by one who was handing over (παρεδίδου) Christians to be imprisoned and killed (Acts 8:3). This one who takes Judas place begins where Judas left off.  He counts himself “the chief of sinners” due to his persecution of the Church. Though the fate of Judas is not spelled out, the one who considers himself as guilty or guiltier than Judas also counts himself a worthy Apostle. The one who is rejected, the one who is handed over to sin, through Christ’s being handed over becomes the one who would deliver Christ to the Gentiles: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”[19] How one is oriented to this deliverance is determinative of whether he stands with Jesus or Judas.

The difference between the sin of deliverance and the salvation accomplished through deliverance is found in the subject and object of the deliverance. Where Christ is the object separated out and delivered to be killed, this is the work of the betrayer. This one separates himself out from the death of Christ and refuses to take up the Cross. A theology founded on this sort of betrayal would say “Christ died so that I do not have to.” The one who delivers Christ in the Gospel identifies with what is delivered. This one would “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”[20] Paul pictures himself as dying daily, as completing the death of Jesus in his own body, that he might deliver Christ to the Gentiles. The “I” that stood with Judas so as to deliver Jesus to death has itself been delivered up to death: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”[21]  

(The course on John with PBI will open for Registration in one week on May 31st.)

[1] See http://forgingploughshares.org/2018/05/03/only-one-king-can-judge-jesus-trial-as-the-suspension-of-sovereign-judgment/

[2] See volume II 2, 35.4 of the Dogmatics for Barth’s treatment of Judas and “handed over.”

[3] Lk 22:21–22

[4] Mk 14:21

[5] Jn 13:22

[6] Mt 26:22

[7] Jn 13:8

[8] Jn 13:10

[9] Jn 11:16

[10] Jn 13:37

[11] Jn 10:12

[12] Jn 13:27

[13] Jn 13:30

[14] 1 Co 11:23

[15] Jn 17:12

[16] John 6:70

[17] Ro 1:24–25

[18] Ro 8:32

[19] 1 Co 15:4–5

[20] Jud 3

[21]Ga 2:20

Two Concepts of Truth: Truth as the Power of Death or the Power of Life

Pilate pronounces what Friedrich Nietzsche called the “most subtle witticism of all time.” With his question, “What is truth?” Pilate “annihilated the New Testament,” according to Nietzsche.  The strong “revel in ambiguity” while the weak cannot “afford uncertainty and so demand a clear dichotomy.” The strong man must take a stand “beyond good and evil” and presumably Pilate, with his question ventures beyond mere morality and religion. The superman braves subtle shades of grey and refuses the dictates of a determinate notion of truth. Jesus, in Nietzsche’s scheme, is the subject/slave of truth – his life depends upon a determinate truth while the judge and executioner can allow for “subtleties” or “contingencies” in truth. Continue reading “Two Concepts of Truth: Truth as the Power of Death or the Power of Life”