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The Blessed Martin

By Tim Butler | Posted at 0:28

In honor of Reformation Day, I finally got around to changing my “Notable Quotable.”

The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God. — Martin Luther

A Question-Mark Against All Truths

By Tim Butler | Posted at 23:50
In announcing the limitation of the known world by another that is unkown, the Gospel does not enter into competition with the many attempts to disclose within the known world some more or less unknown and higher former of existence and to make it accessible to men. The Gospel is not a truth among other truths. Rather, it sets a question-mark against all truths. The Gospel is not the door but the hinge. The man who apprehends its meaning is removed from all strife, because he is engaged in a strife with the whole, even with existence itself.

—Karl Barth (Epistle to the Romans 35, Emphasis Mine)

I ran across this statement from Barth and thought it was worth posting. It seems like an interesting way to phrase how we should look at the Bible. The Bible is a tool — no, the tool — by which we can judge everything else. Beyond being truth within itself, it is also the touchstone to determine the truth of everything else. When we use this touchstone against everything in life, then we are indeed “engaging in a strife […] with existence itself.”

The latter sentence that I emphasized above is an important statement to go along side that. “The Gospel is not the door but the hinge.” That is true too. The Living Word, Jesus, is the door. We ought not place the word where the Word is. If we go too far, we commit idolatry by elevating the Scriptures above the point of the message. Alternately, if we don't go far enough, it becomes too easy to reshape Jesus to be how we want Him. It is a balancing act; our focus is on the door, but the hinge is the instrument by which we can easily open that door when led by the Holy Spirit.

The hinge is unique, just as the door it serves is unique. The Gospel is such a unique entity that Barth notes that it is not even in competition with “the many attempts” at truth. While all of our own reasoning on Earth hopefully will be in the right direction and pass the authenticity test, all of it is different from the Gospel because it comes from ourselves looking toward God; God's Word moves the opposite direction, uniquely coming from God to us, a group of fallen creatures who are otherwise too broken to get more than part way to where we should be. The Gospel's touchstone, reality-questioning status moves it from an option in a pluralistic world to the foundation upon which “truths” try to compete and any that do not fit within its framework ultimately wilt under its examination.

To borrow a phrase from Keats, “that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Those Deceptive Words

By | Posted at 1:29

I've read the passage before, but for some reason, it is really striking me at the moment. Part of it may be that I'm reading it in a different translation (NRSV), but I think part of it is that it just happens to hit a chord at this time.

“Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'”

I feel led to write about this passage (Jeremiah 7:3-4), but that will not happen tonight. I'll try to post some thoughts on it, along with my previous quote of the month (from Doctor Faustus), in the coming days.

Tillich on Asking Questions

By | Posted at 22:36

This month's quote says something I think we need to be reminded of, as Christians. Too often we've come to associate faith with placidly accepting the way things are, according to authorities (be it pastors, leaders or even a cursory examination of the Scriptures) and fail to really get to the meat of things. If we accept that what God says is true and what is in the Bible is what God has to say, then we should question what we read to really understand it.

“Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.”

If I passionately seek answers, not every answer is going to come back the way I want it to. Maybe some will shake my faith. Maybe some will strengthen my faith while going against what I want. Regardless of my preconceived notions, it is important to constantly ask the existential questions of life and be ready for the answers. It is only by not taking things for granted that I can finally come to know more about God.

Karl Barth on Jesus

By | Posted at 21:37
October 2004
“Cry, cry for death, but let the good win out in the end.”
This is a dramatic quote from the early part of the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus. The chorus sees that the situation is increasingly hopeless, but they refuse to believe that the good lose completely.

November 2004
“A poem should not mean
But be.”
This is an excerpt from Archibald MacLeish's famous poem, “Ars Poetica.” If you have not read “Ars Poetica” yet, go read it now.

December 2004
Christ-tide, I pray you.
This is a quote from Ben Jonson's the Alchemist that seemed appropriate. It is spoken by Ananias, the side kick to the main Puritan of the play, Tribulation Wholesome. Unlike Tribulation, Ananias seems to be a generally respectable character, despite his fear of popish elements in everything.

January 2005
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
“Thus passes away the glory of the world,” the quote declares. As it turned out, this quote was especially appropriate this year. This phrase is used during the installation of a new pope, so it makes sense that I started out the year with it, considering that we now have Pope Benedict XVI.

February 2005
If our parish-minister is grieved at our greater good, or prefers his credit before it, then he has good cause to grieve over his own rottenness and hypocrisy.
This was spoken by Gilbert Tennent concerning the problems of an “Unconverted Ministry.” This was a very controversial sermon that ended up being a part of what caused some to reject the revivalism of the Great Awakening. Tennent definitely did not mince words in this sermon.

March 2005
What is honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no. Doth he hear it? no. 'Tis insensible, then. Yea, to the dead.
A quote from the ever likable Sir John Falstaff, the friend of Prince Hal in Shakespeare's King Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. This particular quote comes from toward the end of Part 1 and deals with the question of the value of honor. This scene is similar to Juliet's famous “a rose by any other name” soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet. The big difference is that Juliet is thinking about whether she can marry a Montague, whereas Falstaff is thinking about all of the lives being lost in the name of honor — “a mere scutcheon.”
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