The PostBarthian

Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Baptism and Rejection of Infant Baptism

Karl and Nelly Barth with Markus (aged 1) and Franziska (2) in 1916, just as he was beginning work on his commentary on Romans.

Karl and Nelly Barth with Markus (aged 1) and Franziska (2) in 1916, just as he was beginning work on his commentary on Romans. (source:

Karl Barth's rejection of Infant Baptism is infamous, yet gravely misunderstood, because he also rejected rebaptism. Karl Barth was baptized as an infant, and refused to be rebaptized as an adult, even after he had rejected the practice of Infant Baptism. Barth seconded Augustine's affirmation of heretical baptism that improperly performed baptism were to be accepted as true baptism and for this reason, those who have been Infant Baptism likewise should not be rejected or rebaptized. This is an incredibly helpful and ecumenical solution to the pathology of rebaptism in American Evangelical Churches.

I am a Presbyterian and Infant Baptism is a normative practice for me and Barth's rejection of Infant Baptism is problem for me! I've discovered an excellent book, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward and Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth by W. Travis McMaken to help me sort through Barth's rejection of a baptismal practice I dearly love.

In a future post, I hope to share McMaken's solution, but before that, I want to explain Barth's baptismal position. So what is Karl Barth's doctrine of Baptism? It is summarized and explained in the following quotation from The Sign of the Gospel. This five point list is a brief and helpful understanding of Karl Barth's understanding of baptism in Karl Barth's 1948 lectures on The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism that would be fully expanded and repeated in full form in the Church Dogmatics IV.4 fragment.

What doctrine of baptism does Barth advance in this lecture [The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism]? Eberhard Jüngel explicates this material under five admirably succinct points.

First, "Baptism has a portraying, attesting and--in the sense of attestation--imitating, symbolic, signifying function." It is an image of the salvation history that occurs between God and humanity in Jesus Christ, and not itself that which it attests.

Second, the power of baptism does not reside within baptism itself or within the faith of the one being baptized. Rather, it resides within Jesus Christ. Jüngel clarifies this notion in five subpoints, the sum of which is that baptism has the necessity of a command, but that baptism is not a necessary or indispensable means of salvation.

Third, "baptism is an exclusively cognitive event" that "seals" or reinforces subjectively the truth of the objective reality it attests. It is not a causal or generative event creating that reality.

Fourth, the administration of baptism ought to be characterized by responsibility, both on the side of the church and on the side of the baptizand. Although the power of baptism cannot be questioned because that power is located in Jesus Christ, deficient baptismal order can lead to subjective questioning of baptism's meaning. Baptismal order must be reformed for this reason, and that means--among other things--the abrogation of infant baptism.

Fifth and finally, baptism's effectiveness resides neither within its administrator nor its receiver, but within Jesus Christ. Baptism possesses the character of an eschatological sign that determines and equips the one who has been baptized.

This much is clear from Jüngel's explication: in this essay, Barth takes an approach similar to Schleiermacher's with reference to the inherent tension in Calvin's legacy on the doctrine of baptism. Barth wants to maintain that baptism is an instrument of Christ and the Holy Spirit employed for the strengthening of our faith, which Barth casts as "cognitive" here in a way that is perhaps more reductive than Calvin would have liked. Like Schleiermacher, Barth maintains that faith is necessary for baptism to be effective even if it is valid when faith is absent, although Barth jumbles the terminology a bit because he ties baptism's objective aspect, the question of efface, to the operation of Christ and the Holy Spirit rather than to the confluence of ritual and faith: "Baptism without the willingness and readiness of the baptized is true, effectual and effective baptism, but it is not correct; it is not done in obedience, it is not administered according to proper order, and therefore it is necessarily clouded baptism." Thus while infant baptism is valid, or complete in a formal or objective sense, it is improper insofar as it is deficient in the subjective sense of being irresponsible--this "willingness" and "readiness" is not present in the baptizand.

W. Travis McMaken, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward and Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, pg32-34

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Jürgen Moltmann on Homosexuality vs Fundamentalists

1024px-Rainbow_flag_breezeIn the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations conference, Jürgen Moltmann made several statements on Homosexuality:

TONY JONES: There's a lot of strife in the American Church, and as I look at it, it almost all boils down to biblical hermeneutic. You may say its about gay marriage, you may say its about whether women should preach, and you may say its about different denominations, and you may peal away the layers andyou get down to 'we just read the bible differently than you do' and different camps all read it differently. You've answered it already, but I just want to hear it reiterated, you are advocated a hermeneutic, a biblical hermeneutic, that is reading what's closest whats closest to Christ, reading a passage as it can be closest to Christ. The next question is, how do you, by what criteria, do you determine what is closest to Christ? In what I appreciate, even in the title of your book, 'Experiences in Theology', you don't discount personal experience in developing that hermeneutic.

JÜRGEN MOLTMANN:Well, my question to some of the Fundamentalists is "Do you really read the bible?" and the second questions is, "Do you really understand what you are reading?" Just to quote the bible on so-called homosexual-persons is wrong because the term does not appear in the original hebrew words, and so I can go on into that debate, but so we should not leave biblical hermeneutics to Fundamentals who only believe in the fifteen fundamentals and not in the rest."

Jurgen Moltmann, 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations Conference, session 2, 41h00m

The @Moltmanniac has an additional audio clip/transcript on the topic of homosexuality that is related to this discussion:

TONY JONES: Paul seemed to think a lot about sex. Augustine certainly thought a lot about sex. And in the American church in a lot of the denominations represented around here, sexuality is a schismatic topic currently, and its the reason some of us have withdrawn from those denominational fights because of the schismatic nature of these debates. It might’ve been Filioque 1000 years ago, but now its the questions of who can be ordained and who can be in a sacramental marriage, and who can be in a legal marriage, and those kinds of questions.

JÜRGEN MOLTMANN: Let me first say, this is no problem in Germany. We never have a struggle about sex and homosexuality in the churches and between the churches.


JÜRGEN MOLTMANN: Because the church is about the Gospel and not about sex. And we believe in the justification of human beings by faith alone, and not by faith and heterosexuality or whatever. You can’t add to it. This is for us, in the Protestant tradition in Germany, heresy. And homosexual or heterosexual, whatsoever believes by faith alone is saved and is certainly able to be ordained in a Christian community. I will not say that a lesbian or a homosexual partnership is equal to a marriage, because a marriage is intended to father children, while these partnerships are not intentionally directed to adopt children. But I have no problems in blessing such a partnership. Why should I not bless a partnership between human beings? And homosexuality is neither a sin nor a crime. To be short-sighted, as I am, is neither a sin nor a crime. So I don’t see the schism or the heat of the debate on it. I know how much this is destroying churches in this country, but I don’t know why this is more important than the question of war and peace, for example.

Tony Jones and Jürgen Moltmann, Theological Conversations 2009 Conference: Session 2
(original source:

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Jürgen Moltmann on Unfinished Summas and Natural Theology

Unfinished Barcelona Cathedral (Sagrada)

Unfinished Barcelona Cathedral (Sagrada)

Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics is 8,000 pages and unfinished. Thomas Aquinas' great theological system, The Summa Theologica, is unfinished too. All the medieval summas are unfinished in the same way as the medieval summas are unfinished. The post-magesterial reformers of the 16th and 17th century also produced summas during the Protestant Scholasticism period and they are unfinished as well. Why is this? In the following audio clip (and transcript), Jürgen Moltmann answers this question. Completion is an attribute of God, not of Man.

The audio answers a second question of Natural Theology. Karl Barth's Nien to Natural Theology, is among the loudest No's in the history of Theology. Yet, in CD IV/3, Karl Barth finds a hidden Yes to Natural Theology in his No to Email Brunner. Jürgen Moltmann explains how the ecological crisis has driven him to find a secret Yes to Natural Theology in the way that a car's headlights illuminate the reflectors of the car they shine upon.

There two excellent answers by the greatest living theologian are well worth hearing:

TONY JONES: Professor Moltmann, this is the session where I'd like to explore your method, or as you said in the car on the way over, lack thereof. Because you, it seems to me, broke some of the rules of German Protestant Systematic Theology that must have been very much a part of your Theological education. So maybe you can tell us is, because not everyone is familiar in what it means to write a three volume systematic theology, or what it means to write however many volumes Church Dogmatics is, but this is the world in which you were reared theologically and I think it says something about your intellect and your and adventurous spirit that you didn't necessarily... you haven't played by those rules of writing a Dogmatics or writing a Systematic Theology. So what's that... what's the normal German way of going about Systematics and I'll read you something that you wrote and ask you to reflect on it. This is that preface I was talking about last session,

"Every consistent theological summing up, every theological system lays claim to totality, perfect organization, and entire competence over the entire area under survey, in principle, one has to be able to say everything, and to not leave any point unconsidered. All the statements must fit in with one another without contradiction, and the whole architecture must be a harmonious integrated whole. Every theoretical system, even a theological one, has therefore an aesthetic charm, at least to some degree. But this allurement may also be a dangerous seduction. Systems saves some readers, and their admirers most of all, from thinking critically for themselves, and at arriving at independent and responsible positions. For systems do not present themselves for discussion. For that reason, I have resisted the temptation to develop a theological system. Even an open one."

And then skipping ahead a couples pages.

"Behind of this is the conviction, humanly speaking, truth is to be found in unhindered dialog."

This is one of the foundations of the Emergent movement in the United States. I'll repeat that line.

"Behind of this is the conviction, humanly speaking, [humanly speaking], truth is to be found in unhindered dialog. Fellowship and freedom are the human components for knowledge of the truth, the Truth of God. And the Fellowship, I mean here, is the fellowship of mutual participation and unifying sympathy."

So how is that different than Karl Barth? Or your other Theological predecessors in German?

JÜRGEN MOLTMANN: To try to give a systematic answer to your question [*laughter*], there is one great theological system that's Thomas Aquinas. He starts with a questions 'whether there is a God or not?' And develops five ways of proving the existence of God. This is Natural Theology, so to speak, at the entrance of the church, and then he comes into the church, and speaks about the revelations of God, and of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, etcetera, etcetera. And then he died... [*long pause, then laughter*] because, all the great theological systems of medieval times must have an open end because of the parousia of Christ is expected to come. It's similar to the great cathedrals of medieval times. They were beautiful, but were not allowed to be finished at any time. Because you must keep at least a window or hole open for the Coming of God himself. Otherwise, the system of theology would replace the coming of God and the presence of God, and that would be not good. Well, a theological system normally begins with prolegomena. These are presuppositions.

TONY JONES: The clearing of the throat?

JÜRGEN MOLTMANN: Yes. We have a very beautiful theological system in Paul Tillich's theology. Where he develops his question and answer period..., meethod at the beginning, and then as as a beautiful, everything is related to everything, in the system. You can learn it but he rarely is quoting the bible, and is rarely in discussion with Karl Barth or contemporaries. I think his theology was still in the 19th century while he was living in the 20th century. So Karl Barth then started with a presupposition: 'the prolegomena to dogmatics are themselves dogmatics'. He then started with the self-revelation of God. He started twice. In 1927 with the Christian Dogmatics and then in 1932 with the Church Dogmatics. He has always had a failure start, and then he starts directly. With the commentary to the Romans it was the same: there was one in 1919, and then came the other one in 1922. So, this is Karl Barth's unsystematic way of thinking. The Church Dogmatics does not start with the general proofs of the existence of God, but with the self-revelation of God. So it is a dogmatic inside of the Church, under the presupposition that there is a Church and nobody must be convinced to enter a Church. It is for those who are inside. And therefore, Karl Barth was very strong in developing Christian Doctrines, on predestination for example. I love his volume CD II.2. Insider Barthians dialog only with CD II.2 pg702(?) and the other one is 'but remember', pg300(?) etcetera, etcetera. But he was weak with dialoging with contemporaries. He was strong in dialoging with Rudolf Bultmann and nearly overcame the Bultmannian friction(?) but after 1945, he came to a conference in Geneva with John Paul Sarte, John Walsh(?), french philosophers, scientists,  and he came back and said, 'I couldn't utter a word. I should have prayed with them. And celebrated the eucharist.' This was very strange when I read this. He was not very good in dialog with another presupposition, or other theology. He as good in developing his own things. Well, we have more than 8,000 pages of Church Dogmatics from Karl Barth. And a very friendly critic once said, 'the truth cannot be so long'. And indeed, his fundamental ideas, you can write down in a half page. And as you know, the praise of God has not beginning and no end. And that's Church Dogmatics. Doxology.

I think I had not to resist to resist to write a system, because I am not a systematic person. I had an impression and and idea, and then following the loci method that Melanchton started. So, there's a question, about the Trinity for example, and the Trinitarian God, and the One King of the One Kingdom--How does this fit together? So I wrote this book on the Trinity.

Before that, I think it was in 1973, I became aware of the ecological crisis, and the limits of growth, and started to give lectures on the understanding of Creation. I then wrote the second book, God in Creation: An Ecological Doctrine of Creation. With this, I found out, we need, so to speak, a theology of nature and a type Natural Theology. This is against Karl Barth! Of course, because in 1933-4, he struggled with his intimate enemy on Natural Theology, Emil Brunner, on Natural Theology. There must be no Natural Theology, only the self-revelation of God. This was not a problem of nature, it was the problem of political theology of the German Christians, who believe instead of the Old Testament, in blood and soil of the German Race, and the Germanic historic figure of the  victorious Christ, etcetera, etcetera. So to fight against the German Christians, he said there must be no Natural Theology. While at the end of his Church Dogmatics, he developed his own Natural Theology. After the special Christian Theology, there can and must be a theology of nature about the many lights outside of the one light of Christ, and the many words of truth outside of the One Word of the Incarnate of God, which is Christ. But the relationship between the Light which is Christ and the many lights of the world, is like the [?] headlights of your car. If you switch on the lights of your car, then you can see the reflectors of the car in front, so the lights in nature are only a reflection of the Light of Christ. They do not illuminate anything by themselves; only as a reflection of the Light of Christ. When Emil Brunner, who was the enemy and in the struggle about Natural Theology, when he read this volume of the Dogmatics, was curious, because he said the same thing thirty years ago that Karl Barth came to the same result, that Natural Theology or Theology of Nature, is a task of Christian Theology. We are not only an ideology for insiders. We are not only a theology for Christians. We have a theology for the Kingdom of God, for the mission of those who are outside. I remember there was a similar struggle between the Yale school and the Chicago school. While the Yale school followed Karl Barth that Christian Theology is only for Christians. The Chicago school said, no, its for everyone who can listen, because otherwise there can be no real mission. From my standpoint is theology is a Theology of the Kingdom of God which is coming. So we have a special starting point which is Jesus Christ and the experience of the Holy Spirit and a universal horizon which we can discover in the New Testament and the letters of the Apostle Paul, Colossians and everywhere. So God reconciled the whole cosmos to himself, and made us messengers of the reconciliation. We need this universal horizon if we are to be faithful to the gospel.

But there is in Karl Barth, also this type of hidden Universalism. Not to reconcile the universe but to reconcile everybody.

Tony Jones and Jürgen Moltmann, Theological Conversations 2009 Conference: Session 2
(original source:

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Jürgen Moltmann on Replacing the Our Father prayer with the Abba Dear Father

In response to a question by Danielle Shroyer, Jürgen Moltmann says that the Lord's Prayer should use the form "Abba, Dear Father" as the opening line, rather than the traditional form, "Our Father, Who Art In Heaven" as found in Matthew's Gospel. The traditional form may be misunderstood as an affirmation of Patriarchalism and as saying God is far away from us and not near and dear to us. Listen to the following audio clip to hear Moltmann explain why.

(download: moltmann-abba-dear-father)

DANIELLE SHROYER: “I really appreciate the way you restructured or helped us to reorient our understanding of the unity of the trinity. Because it seems in Western Theology, when we talk about the Trinity, the numbers sort of mess with us and we try to figure out to be three in one well you were very clearly stating Jesus, ‘I and the father are one’ and not, ‘I and the father are one in the same’. And as a pastor, that’s helpful for me because we’re not a doctrine based church, so when people come and say ‘what do you believe about x’ or ‘what is your statement on this.’ We often say ‘there are lot of different beliefs in our church’ and then they say ‘what holds you together.’ And we say, this unity comes not through our doctrine but the face that we feel that Christ provides a unity far about that, right? So can you talk a little bit more that because for many of us in the room who are pastors who have congregations who disagree on a number of different doctrines, this gift of the unity of the trinity, that doesn’t have to be ‘sameness’ is a really important thing for us.

JÜRGEN MOLTMANN: “Let me first say. Jesus addressed, his God as Abba dear Father. The apostle Paul heard the Abba Prayer in Galatia and in Rome, but after the first century the Abba Prayer disappeared from the Christian congregations and was replaced by “Our Father Who Is In Heaven” with a far distance and with the possible misunderstanding of Patriarchalism where the Father in Heaven and the father in the family, etcetera, and the father of the fatherland, etcetera and etcetera. If we were to reintroduce into our congregations and our personal lives, the abba prayer, we would feel the nearness of Jesus in the moment. So I tried to convince the congregations in Tübingen to reintroduce the Abba prayer and replace the “Our Father In Heaven, Hollowed Be Thy Name”, with “Abba, Dear Father, Hollowed Be Thy Name”, because then you are already in the Trinity, while the Father of the Fatherland and the Father of the Universe is another concept of Fatherhood. And what keeps us together… well, the Trinitarian persons, in their mutual indwelling in their perichoresis are not only three persons, but also three rooms. they give room for indwelling of the other persons in them. So God the Father gives room to Jesus to dwell in him, and he dwells in Jesus. To give room to each other means what we are doing and if we accept other people, open our life and our houses, in love and friendship to them, we give them a life space in which they can breathe freely and reveal themselves, go out of themselves, etcetera, if we give no living space to other people, to exclude them, or to shut them out, or become aggressive, the other people will retire into themselves and become defensive. We all do this, and therefore this room giving to each other, is the best way to respond to the triune god. And perhaps this is what you are doing in your church.

Daniel Shroyer and Jürgen Moltmann, Emergent Village Theological Conversations 2009 Conference, End of Part1,

(original source:

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Jürgen Moltmann at the Emergent Village Theological Conversation in 2009 (audio)

Tony Jones and Jurgen Moltmann

Tony Jones and Jurgen Moltmann at the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations Conference

Tony Jones shared the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversations conference with Jürgen Moltmann available online. The following is a mirror of that conference and contains some of the most amazing theology content I've ever encountered in a podcast.

Jürgen Moltmann is the greatest Theologian alive today. He is a German Reformed Theologian who wrote famous titles such as The Crucified God, The Theology of Hope, and The Coming of God and his autobiography, A Broad Place.

Jürgen Moltmann at the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation

Jürgen Moltmann - Preamble (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 1 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 2 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 3 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 4 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 5 (mp3)
Jürgen Moltmann - Part 6 (mp3)

For more resources on Jürgen Moltmann, see the

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Ronald E. Osborn on God Has No Rational Answer to Job

Job by Léon Bonnat

Job by Léon Bonnat

God responds to Job out of the whirlwind, Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? (Job 38:4). In Ronald E. Osborn's book Death Before The Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, Osborn asks whether God is irritated with Job questioning, and answers with a quotation from Slavoj Žižek that God is not irritated, but that God is also ignorant of the answer! This isn't a mocking of the Biblical text, or an affirmation of Open Theism, or a refutation of the omniscience of God. What this means is that God is with us, he is Immanuel! God is identified with us specifically as Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, and in every way like us, such that in God's answer to Job is an anticipation of the Passion of Jesus Christ who also asked, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

This quotation from Olson (and Zizek) has striking parallel's to Jürgen Moltmann's masterpiece, The Crucified God, and in that book Moltmann explains that we should reject the older Theodicy paradox that forces us to choose whether we believe God is good or sovereign. Instead, we look to the crucified Jesus Christ, and know that Jesus is with us in our suffering, and he is there asking God, Where are you in our suffering?

Perhaps Slavoj Žižek has discerned a vital truth in his provocative rereading of the book of Job not as a story of divine power over creation but instead, in a certain sense, of divine impotence within it. God "solves the riddle by supplanting it with an even more radical riddle, by redoubling the riddle," Žižek declares, "he himself comes to share Job's astonishment at the chaotic madness of the created universe." God's answer from out of the whirlwind amounts not to a negation but an intensification of Job's protest. What is God in effect saying, Žižek proposes, is that he too has no rational answer for the creation, that he is suffering along with Job. If God sounds slightly irritable it's because he's really just trying to hold it all together! But Žižek (a self-described atheistic materialist) goes still further, pressing the final chapters of Job in the direction of a radically christocentric interpretation that sees Job's silence at the end of the book as being filled with the pathos of one survivor bearing prophetic witness to the sufferings of another:

What Job suddenly understood was that it was not him, but God himself who was in effect on trial in Job's calamities, and he failed the test miserably. Even more pointedly, I am tempted to risk a radical anachronistic reading: Job foresaw God's own future suffering -- "Today it's me, tomorrow it will be your own son, and there will be no one to intervene for him. What you see in me now is a prefiguration of your own Passion!" [Slavoj Žižek, The Monstrosity of Christ, The Fear of Four Words, pg53]

Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before The Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, pg158


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Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Adam Leaving the Father and Mother He Never Had

Early Christian depiction of Adam and Eve in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter

Early Christian depiction of Adam and Eve in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in bold fashion comments on Genesis 2:24 that "the narrator is obviously stumbling". This is one of many bold and enlightening sections of his book, Creation and Fall, Temptation: Two Biblical Studies, and one that is foundational to the so-called 'biblical definition of marriage'. My mouth is left gapping the audacity of Bonhoeffer's words and even more so at my inability to answer this statement.

Therefore a man [Mann] leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his woman [Weib], and they become one flesh.

It could be said that here the narrator is obviously stumbling. How can Adam, who knows nothing of a father or a mother, say such a thing? We could also say this is the narrator's practical application of the story, or something of the kind. Really, though, we recognize a basic fact here which has so far been hidden and which has now, as it were unintentionally, come to light.

We ourselves are the Adam who speaks. We have a father and a mother and we know the uniqueness of belonging to one another in the love of man and woman, but for us this knowledge has been wholly spoiled and destroyed by our guilt. This passage does not justify running away from the worldly order or from our connection with our father and mother. It is the profoundest way possible of describing the depth and seriousness of belonging to one another. This ultimate belonging to one another is undoubtedly seen here in connection with man's sexuality. Very clearly sexuality is the expression of the two-sidedness of being both an individual and being one with the other person. Sexuality is nothing but the ultimate realization of our belonging to one another. Here sexuality has as yet no life of its own detached from this purpose.

Here the community of man and woman [Mann und Frau] is the community derived from God, the community of love glorifying and worshiping him as the Creator. It is therefore the Church in its original form. And because it is the Church [Kirche] it is a community eternally bound together. For us such statements do not imply the glorification of our marriages; they are the indication that for us at any rate the connection between man and woman is not such an unequivocally real one and that the Church's action in the marriage ceremony is perhaps the most questionable of all the Church's official actions.

The community of love has been torn to pieces by sexuality and become passion [Sucht]. Therefore it affirms itself and denies the other person as God's creature. This community rests upon the claim that the one makes upon his share in the other-upon his rib in the other, upon the other's having his origin in him. This community is plainly not the glorification of the Creator-in which the Creator once again does the work of his creation upon the unknowing, sleeping Adam and Eve. It is man's snatching for himself the strength and the glory of the Creator-the ascent of man to unconscious awareness [bewußtlosen bewußtheit] of his own ego, to begetting and giving birth out of his own power, in the waking of drunkenness [im Waschsein des Rausches]. Of course, tills abysmal destruction of the original state does not abolish the fact that, in the truest sense, the community of man and woman [Mann und Frau] is intended to be the Church (Eph 5:30-32).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, Temptation: Two Biblical Studies, pg62

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Wolfhart Pannenberg on Two Kingdoms vs Barmen Declaration

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg

If anything is distinctively Lutheran, is it the Two Kingdoms political theology. It's not only Lutheran, but strongly advocated by many Reformed theologians today, especially in a town named, Escondido. Two Kingdoms origination is attributed to Martin Luther, and all of the magisterial Reformers affirmed a form of the Two Kingdoms. In the most general definition, it means that the Church and State are two separate entities, and in its extremely dualistic forms, a person is a Dual Citizen of these Two Kingdoms in a paradoxical way such that neither Kingdom intersects the other in anyway.

In World War II, Nazi propoganda invades the Evangelical Church, and many believe that the Two Kingdoms ideology allowed this to happen because the Church stood silent as this advance happened. Whether the Two Kingdoms may be blamed is a contentious debate, but history shows that a better political theology was necessary to prevent history from repeating itself.

Karl Barth provided this solution in the Barmen Declaration, which he wrote in response to the Nazi infiltration into the German Protestant Church during World War II. This statement of faith was used by the German Confession Church to protest the Nazi invasion.

The Barmen Declaration is like Two Kingdoms in that it has two realms of State and Church, but the difference is that Jesus has Lordship over both realms. The Lordship of Jesus Christ applies directly to the Church in a special and distinctive way, but it also includes a general Lordship over the State and all Creation.

Wolfhart Pannenberg is my favorite Lutheran theologian, and a theologian of hope, like the great Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann. Jesus: God and Man is Pannenberg's Christology, and possibly his most famous book. In the following long quotation, Pannenberg compares and contrast the Two Kingdoms with the Barmen Declaration. As a Lutheran, yet also he is a theologian that has much in common with Karl Barth, the following discussion is a midway between the Two Kingdoms and the Barmen Declaration rather than a choosing of side. However, in my opinion, despite the good things he says about the Two Kingdoms, I only read an affirmation of the Barmen Declaration in this assessment, and that Barmen is the superior ideology.

In one final thought, the last I've heard is that Wolfhart Pannenberg is not in the best health, so please say a prayer for his well being.

The question whether the Lordship of Christ over Christians is restricted to the preaching and life of the church or whether it goes beyond this to include the formation of social life belongs to the most controversial contemporary dogmatic themes. In this discussion it is agreed that the royal Lordship of Christ extends in fact to the whole of creation and so the whole sphere of political events that must serve it against its knowledge and will. The question is whether on the basis of the confession of faith in Christ's royal Lordship, political life can be directly structured. In particular, Karl Barth and his friends answer this question affirmatively.

On the other hand, in the tradition of the Lutheran doctrine of the two Kingdoms, it is emphasized that the political sphere is the place for merely worldly-political considerations in the context of the divine will to preservation and that every argumentation on the basis of the Lordship of Christ for concrete political tasks  signifies a legalizing of the gospel. In the context of Christology, this dispute cannot be discussed in all its aspects. We must restrict ourselves to what is directly relevant to the understanding of the royal Lordship of Christ.

On the basis of our conclusions about the eschatological character of the Kingship of Jesus Christ, we must first agree with the Lutheran theologians as they bring this character, as well as the hiddenness of the Lordship of Christ in the present world, to the fore. The hiddenness of the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not fully expressed in that only Christendom, and not yet the whole world, perceives Jesus as the Lord over all creation.

In addition it means that the church itself in all its aspects is only a provisional form of the Kingdom of Christ. Further, it means that life under the Lordship of Christ in this world repeatedly leads Christians to a participation in the cross of Jesus. however, to interpret the Lordship of Christ in the life of Christians primarily on the basis of Jesus' cross would mean to abbreviate the primitive Christian understanding of discipleship. Participation in the cross of Jesus, where it actually happens, is always only the consequence of the Christian's mission, just as the cross of Jesus must be seen not as the content as Jesus' mission but as the consequence of his being sent to preach the imminent Kingdom of God.

Jesus' obedience as Son expressed itself first of all in dedication to his divine mission of announcing the Kingdom of God. The community of Jesus Christ now shares in this mission by proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God as the Lordship of Jesus Christ who now exercises Lordship over the whole creation in hidden superiority (in heaven). It is the task of Christian preaching to call the whole world into the obedience of sonship to the Father and his coming Kingdom. This task is not merely restricted to certain definite spheres of life, certainly not to the sphere of private behavior. Such a restriction would simply express, in a rather revealing way, the split between public and private life that has become characteristic for bourgeois society.

It is the unquestionable right of those theologians who champion the political consequences of the confession of faith in the royal Lordship of Christ that they oppose with Barmen II the conception "as if there were spheres of our life in which we belonged not to Jesus Christ but to other lords, spheres in which we do not require justification and sanctification through him." Hope in the Kingdom of God is related to the political common life of men in a special way from the perspective of its origin, namely, as the promise of an ultimate political and legal order of human society under the Lordship of Yahweh. By contrast, the church is only the provisional community of those who wait for the coming Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth as realization of true community, of the true totality of political life. Therefore, as the advance division of the coming society, the church will call the attention of present society to the future promised to it.

Of course, the proclamation of the royal Lordship of Christ in the sphere of political life can get its content neither through Biblicistic argumentation nor through Christological conclusions by analogy. It must penetrate theologically to the core of the given social situation. This can be done only in the context of the announcement of God's Kingdom, which will bring the fulfillment of justice among men. The Lordship of Christ can lead Christian proclamation in the political sphere only in its orientation towards the coming Kingdom of God the Father.

Above all, however, the question of political consequences of the Lordship of Christ cannot lead to the political establishment of the Kingdom of Christ in the form of a Christian state--in the exclusive sense that this state should be the only Christian one. Such theocratic or Christocratic programs ignore the provisional character of all Christian structuring of life in view of the eschatological future of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ, and thus imply a virtually anti-Christian element. In the common life of men to the end of this world there will always be tendencies and circumstances that more or less mark that abstract bringing of the political order into the free obedience of sonship. To the extend that the order of states still requires force because of the willfulness of its members, it cannot become a pure representation of free obedience to God's Lordship.

However, if one remains conscious of the provisionalness of all Christian structuring of life and thus also of political life, the decisive consideration becomes the more or less of the nearness of our political order to the Kingdom of God, which will be at the same time and as such the kingdom of fulfilled humanity. Thus, even Luther recognized a ministry of the Christian as official in a society oriented to the Lordship of Christ. As in the private sphere of life, so also in social common life and its concrete structuring, effects of Christian thought, anticipations of the coming Lordship of God, are possible.

In the sense of such a provisionalness that always is to be superseded, the idea of a Christianly determined society, Christian parties (in the plural), and Christian states would be defensible. It is not necessarily reprehensible that political organizaitons orient themselves to Christian motives and make such orientation in principle the foundation of their program--if they are not simply adding thereby an ideological decoration to interests of a completely different sort. If political activity is concerned with the appropriate mastery of the given social situation, at least the creaturely anticipatory view for what is really necessary and possible depends on the mental capacity on the basis of which one makes one's judgments.

Christian, through their knowledge of the eschatological Lordship of God and Jesus Christ, as well as of the differentiation between the present and the future to which it is referred,  could offer a greater impartiality of view for what is really necessary and possible. To be sure, in this as well as in other things it also correct to say that Christians often fail to demonstrate such impartiality. Where programs or orders structured on the basis of Christian motives are held to be solely true or unchangeable because of their Christian motivation, that ignorance of the provisional character of a Christian structuring of life would be at work which has given talk about Christian states or parties a justifiably bad reputation.

Because in the light of the eschaton all Christian structuring of life in both the public and private spheres remains provisional and therefore ambiguous, the church must continue to exist as an independant institution alongside the state, even if the latter or the society that bears it were wholly determined by the Christian spirit. The separate existence of the church remains necessary in order to open up access for men beyond the provisionalness of present life to the ultimacy of the coming Kingdom of God and therefore is also conscious of its own provisional character will by its mere existence be a reminder of the transitoriness of the political order in whose sphere it lives. The separate existence of the church can be useful to society by freeing it for constantly new possibilities of political formation that transcend its present form of existence.

The provisionalness of all present Christian structuring of life, following from the eschatological essence of Christ's Lordship, contributes its share to the hiddenness of the Lordship of Christ in this world. But this hiddenness of the form of the glory of Christ's Kingdom until the eschaton does not justify Christians' limiting themselves to their private sphere of an inner-churchly province. Because they wait for the Kingdom of the Father on earth, they cannot divorce themselves from the problems of political life. Even the hiddenness of the Kingdom of God under the cross will be experienced only by those who participate in Jesus' mission of proclamation of the Kingdom of God on this earth.

The eschatological character of Christ's Kingdom in its unity with the Kingdom of God has proved decisive for its relation to the church, as well as for the political structuring of a Christianly determined society. It is no less significant for understanding the cosmic aspect of Christ's Lordship, as will be shown in the next two sections.

The rediscovery since the turn of the century of the eschatological character of Jesus' own message as well as of the message of primitive Christianity makes it possible today to bring to bear, even in dogmatics, the fundamental eschatological element of the faith in the Lordship of Christ in new radically, in contrast to its neglect since the early church.

Accordingly, the orthodox Protestant doctrine of the three forms of the Kingdom of Christ as regnum potentiaeregnum gratiae, and regnum gloriae must be critically revised. There the breadth of eschatological reference was cut short as it became a special theme alongside and following others. Regnum potentiae and regnum gratiae are not to be understood as independent entities subsequently followed by a regnum gloriae. We have already seen that regnum gratiae is not an independent providence of lordship, perhaps identifiable with the institutional church, alongside the coming Kingdom of Christ.

The proclamation of the church, alongside the coming Kingdom of God, which as such-as coming and therefore through faith and hope-is already present in love. The kingdom of power is likewise to be seen wholly at one with the coming kingdom of glory. The kingdom of power is nothing else than the hidden ordering of all things towards the coming Kingdom of God and so toward the preacher of this Kingdom, Jesus of Nazareth. We must now turn our attention especially to this side of the Lordship of Christ.

Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man, pg 375-378



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Jürgen Moltmann on Before the American Dream was America as Dream

StatueoflibertyJürgen Moltmann's political theology book, On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics, contains a chapter on "America as Dream" that is appropriate to share since today is Independence Day. The American Dream, according to Moltmann, is a dream for all of Humanity, not just the internal affairs of the U.S.A.  The American Dream began as a dream in Europe and for all people who were without freedom or justice. And it is a dream that is incomplete until all of Humanity shares this dream.

For Europeans there exists a simple beginning point for understanding the American Dream: before there was an American dream there was America as dream. But America as dream was dreamed in Europe. It was and is the dream of freedom for every human being: the land of unlimited possibilities and of justice without privileges. This was the dream of the politically oppressed, the religiously persecuted, the socially humiliated and racially defamed. America as dream was also, to be sure, wanderlust, gold fever, and Karl May romanticism. But it was in every case a European dream which motivated the emigration.

The American dream is basically nothing other than the transferal of the European dream of America to American soil. It is the fulfillment and disappointment, the continuation and the reshaping of the European dream of America. Consequently, the American dream did not represent a hope limited to America but had universal significance for all people who sought America as the fulfillment of the hope for freedom and justice. For this reason, on the other hand, an international discussion of the American dream is not an illegitimate meddling of foreigners in the internal affairs of the United States. Yet precisely at this point their lies already the first ambivalence of the American dream: the ambiguity between universalism and particularism, between messianism and Americanism.

The nation entered world history two hundred years ago with all the passions of political messianism. It lives from the power of the vision to be "a new nation conceived in liberty" (Abraham Lincoln).

Jürgen Moltmann, On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics, pg 147-148


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Dietrich Bonhoeffer on God Tempts Man and God Tempts No Man

Brooklyn Museum - Jesus Ministered to by Angels (Jésus assisté par les anges)

Brooklyn Museum - Jesus Ministered to by Angels (Jésus assisté par les anges)

Temptation. Bonhoeffer asks us, "But how can the Bible say that God tempts man?" and "God tempts no one, says James." Yes, God temps us. No, God doesn't tempt us. Bonhoeffer rightly declares, "What does it all mean?" How do we respond to this YES and NO! Bonhoeffer's immense genius solves this mystery in Jesus Christ, who is the Rejected One and the Accepted One for us all in all. Here is his brilliant answer to this paradox: "But where the whole temptation of the flesh, all the wrath of God is obediently endured in Jesus Christ, there the temptation is conquered in Jesus Christ, there the Christian finds behind the God of wrath who tempts him the God of grace who tempts no one." Continuing in my series on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's monumental book, Creation and Fall, Temptation: Two Biblical Studies, the following long quotation that is from the third part of his book on Temptation.

God himself

What does the Bible say about God when it makes him the author of temptation? That is the most difficult and final question. God tempts no one, says James. But the Bible also says that "God did prove Abraham" (Gen 22:1) , that Israel was tempted by God (2 Chron 32:31). David at the census was "made angry by the wrath of God" (2 Sam 24:1), "by Satan"- according to 1 Chron 21:1. Likewise in the New Testament the temptation of Christians is looked upon as the judgement of God (1 Pet 4:12,17) . What does it all mean? First, the Bible makes it clear that nothing can happen on earth without the will and permission of God. Satan also is in God's hands. He must-against his will-serve God. It is bue that Satan has power, but only where God allows it to him. There is consolation for the tempted believer. Satan had to ask permission from God for Job's temptation. He can do nothing on his own. Thus God must first abandon man in order that Satan may have opportunity for temptation-"God left Hezekiah to try him" (2 Chron 32:31). This is how we should understand everything that was said earlier about the abandonment of the tempted. God gives the tempted into Satan's hands. Second-the child's question: "Why doesn't God simply strike Satan dead?" demands an answer. We know that the same question can mean: Why must Christ be tempted, suffer and die? Why must Satan have such power over him? God gives Satan opportunity because of men's sin. Satan must execute the death of the sinner; for only if the sinner dies, can the righteous man live; only if the old man daily and wholly perishes, can the new man rise from the dead. While Satan thus employs himself, he serves God's purpose. "The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up" (1 Sam 2:6) . So must Satan unwillingly serve God's plan of redemption; with Satan rests death and sin, but with God life and righteousness. Satan does his work in three ways in temptation. He leads men to the knowledge of sin. He allows the flesh to suffer. He gives death to the sinner. 1. "God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart'' (2 Chron 32:31) . The heart of man is revealed in temptation. Man knows his sin, which without temptation he could never have known; for in temptation man knows on what he has set his heart. The coming to light of sin is the work of the accuser, who thereby thinks to have won the victory. But it is sin which is become manifest which can be known and therefore forgiven. Thus the mani­ festation of sin belongs to the salvation plan of God with man, and Satan must serve this plan. 2. In temptation Satan wins power over the believer as far as he is flesh. He torments him by enticement to lust, by the pains of privation, and by bodily and spiritual suffering of every kind. He robs him of everything he has and, at the same time, entices him to forbidden happiness. He drives him, like Job, into the abyss, into the darkness, in which the tempted one is only sustained by the grace of God which he does not perceive and feel, but which nevertheless holds him fast. So Satan appears to have won full power over the be­ liever, but this victory turns to complete defeat. For the mortification of the flesh is indeed the way to life in judge­ ment; and the tempted one, in being driven into a complete void and into defenselessness, is chiven by Satan directly into the very hands of God. Thus Christ recognizes at once in Satan's fury the gracious chastening of God (Heb 12:4ff.) , of the Father to his child; the gracious judgement of God which preserves mnn from the judgement of wrath. The hour of temptation, therefore, becomes the hour of greatest joy (James 1.2ff). 3. The last enemy is death. Death is in Satan's hands. The sinner dies. Death is the last temptation. But even here where m an loses everything, where hell reveals its terror, even here life has broken in upon the believer. Satnn loses his last power and his last right over the believer. We ask once more: Why does God give Satan opportunity for temp­ tation? First, in order finally to overcome Satan. Through getting his rights Satan is destroyed. As God punishes the godless man by allowing him to be godless, and allowing him his right and his freedom, and as the godless man perishes in this freedom of his (Rom 1.19ff), so God does not destroy Satan by an act of violence, but Satan must destroy himself. Second, God gives opportunity to Satan in order to bring believers to salvation. Only by knowledge of sin, by suffering and death, can the new man live. Third, the over­ coming of Satan and the salvation of believers is true and real in Jesus Christ alone. Satan plagues Jesus with all sins, all suffering and the death of mankind. But with that his power is at an end. He had taken everything from Jesus Christ and thereby delivered him to God alone. Thus we are led to the lmowledge from which we set out: Believers must learn to understand all their temptations as the temptation of Jesus Christ in them. In this way they will share in the victory. But how can the Bible say that God tempts man? It speaks of the wrath of God, of which Satan is the executor (cf. 2 Sam 24.1; 1 Chron 21:1) . The wrath of God lay upon Jesus Christ from the hour of the temptation. It shuck Jesus be­ cause of the sin of the flesh which he wore. And because the wrath of God found obedience, for the sake of sin, obedience even unto the righteous death of him who bore the sin of the whole world, the wrath was propitiated, the wrath of God had driven Jesus to the gracious God, the grace of God had overcome the wrath of God, the power of Satan was conquered. But where the whole temptation of the flesh, all the wrath of God is obediently endured in Jesus Christ, there the temptation is conquered in Jesus Christ, there the Christian finds behind the God of wrath who tempts him the God of grace who tempts no one. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, Temptationpg111-114

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