doctrine of the church

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Book Review: “A Shared Mercy: Karl Barth on Forgiveness and the Church” by Jon Coutts

asm-couttsJon Coutts’ A Shared Mercy explores the doctrine of forgiveness from the perspective of Karl Barth. Because it is the perspective of Karl Barth, it also reflects on doctrine of the church, as this was central to Barth’s thought. However, Coutts argues we must be careful not to subordinate all doctrines Barth taught under his doctrine of the church.

The book is organized into 6 chapters that largely center on two parts: Barth’s doctrine of forgiveness and what a full doctrine of forgiveness based on Barth might look like in application. Throughout the book there is a kind of unity between these topics as Coutts takes what Barth taught on forgiveness and applies it.

First, Coutts notes that because Christ taught that forgiveness is central to the lives of his followers, it follows that forgiveness is central to the church (1). Thus, exploring Barth’s Church Dogmatics, we ought to expect to find forgiveness as a central, not tertiary teaching. Coutts argues throughout the book that this is, indeed, what we find, though little has been studied in regards to Barth on forgiveness in the church in contemporary theology.

Readers may be concerned that a book so focused on a somewhat obscure topic may lack applicable insights, but Coutts does a great job not merely reporting Barth’s beliefs but also deriving thoughts therefrom that have application to the contemporary Christian. One example is the question of whether forgiveness first requires one to wait for repentance:

A legitimate practical concern… [is] the perpetuation of victimhood that seems to be implied when the imperative [to forgive] is self-giving and forgiving love. But this is founded on a misconception of the call to cruciform discipleship… Even if the abusive party is unrepentant, the result is not unforgiveness, but an acknowledgement of nonreconciliation… Forgiving the abuser is not the perpetuation of victimhood but the free offer of further reconciliation. (154-155)

This and many other passages provide direct application to the lives of believers. At several points, then, Coutts ably demonstrates the way to bring scholarship to the person in the pew, something that is too-often lacking in scholarly works.

As a Lutheran, I appreciated the highlighting of the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for Christian community, though I think Barth’s teaching on these sacraments falls short of the biblical teaching. Yes, baptism is a sign of community, but Barth and Coutts each seem to err in seeing baptism as a kind of political action of the church rather than a gracious action of God. Similarly, the view of the Lord’s Supper as being primarily a work of the church rather than a gracious gift of God takes away the greatness of the gift.

Because the book is so focused on a specific aspect of Barth’s teaching, it does at times read a bit too much like a journal article–engaging with very specific opponents with little context. However, these moments are thankfully few and far between.

A Shared Mercy is an interesting, surprisingly applicable study on forgiveness in Barth’s doctrine. More importantly, it shares information that can be applied directly to the broader church. The importance of a doctrine of forgiveness ought never to be understated, as it is so central to Christian teaching. As such, this book is an important contribution to understanding what we as Christians, and the church, are called to do.

The Good

+Insights into Barth’s theology of the church, in balanced perspective
+Background for modern discussions of forgiveness
+More applicable material than me be expected

The Bad

-Sometimes reads a bit more like a journal article than a book
-Reduces both baptism and the Lord’s Supper to human act

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Links

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SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Should All Churches Be “Mere”ly “Christian”?

st-nicholas-cathedral-kronstadt-russia-1
I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. (1 Corinthians 3:2)

Apologetics Church

I have had many discussions with my apologetics-inclined friends on the nature and purpose of church. One thing I have heard again and again is the notion that all churches–even all services–should be seeker-friendly or should reflect what C.S. Lewis calls “mere Christianity.” Mere Christianity, as defined by C.S. Lewis, is essentially that which all Christians everywhere have believed.

Interestingly, I have run into several people from a broad spectrum of backgrounds who have told me that they think all churches should be “mere Christian” churches centered on apologetics. The point of church on this view is to evangelize and to provide Christians with reasons to believe what they believe.

Statements like this are repeated by many of my apologist friends. I had a conversation with one friend in which I was informed that the purpose of church was to evangelize, and what better way to do that then to go to “mere Christianity” and have every service revolve around apologetics discussion. That’s right, this person–and others I have talked to–said that every sermon, every service, every time the church meets should be about apologetics and should not focus on those doctrines which have caused so much division within the body of Christ.

As an apologist with an MA in the field, this has some appeal! After all, were all churches to do this it would certainly raise my “employability” quotient! I would be in demand every single Sunday. But realistically, I think that statements like this show underlying confusion about the nature of church and the importance of Christian doctrine.


The Point of Church

There is no way for a complete, systematic outline of what church is about in a post like this. Nor would I claim to be an expert on the doctrine of the church. So, at risk of being simplistic, I would say that the meaning of church is to glorify God. How is this done?* I think it’s clear that the creedal statements about the church accepted throughout the history of Christianity (dare I say, the “mere Christian” definition of church?) is that it is “holy” and a “communion of saints” (Apostles’ Creed) and it is “holy and Apostolic” and “catholic/universal” (Nicene Creed).

A church should not be a place which wards off those who are seeking, but the ultimate purpose of church, confessed for over a thousand years, is to be “holy” and a community of saints. The body of Christ is not immediately perfect; but the point of church is to have community with fellow saints–the Body of Christ. Worshiping and glorifying our Creator and Redeemer is central to the life of the church. If we abandon that, we abandon the very reason for having community to begin with.

Whatever vision we have of church, then, should incorporate how the church has always defined itself. A primary need for the Christian is to worship and thank God for the blessings poured out on us each and every day. The community of believers longs to worship Christ, to join the company of angles to laud and magnify the name of the Most High God.

Moreover, when we look at the verse I led this post with, the church is a place to get the “solid food” believers need to go beyond the “milk.” Churches instruct the community in how to move beyond the “milk” of “mere Christianity” and acceptance of the bare minimum and into “solid food” and a fuller understanding of God’s word.

449px-NürnbergReformationsGedKircheApologetics Church, Revisited

I have my own vision of what a church that is focused on apologetics would look like.

The “Apologetics Church” would have a study group for both youth and adults to participate in which focused upon various apologetics issues. The group would start at a basic level, teaching on the nature of apologetics and its methods, then move into individual objections to the Christian faith.

The pastor would have studied apologetics on his/her own and would integrate apologetics into sermons when appropriate (Easter would be a great time to talk about evidence for the resurrection, for example). The church would have a monthly “outreach night” in which the local community was invited in to discuss questions about the faith and simply engage in dialogue over desserts or a snack. The church would have groups that went to a movie, or an art show, or a concert, etc. and then met afterwards to discuss the implications of that media for the Christian worldview.

It would be a church aware of, but not overtaken by, apologetics. It would be an evangelical, mission-oriented church, but not a missions-only church.

Conclusion

I have said only the bare minimum about the nature of church and its function. Ultimately, though, I think a vision of the nature of church should include apologetics, but it should not be reduced to it. We seek “solid food” and long for deeper knowledge of God. Your church is an excellent place to get that needed, longed-for instruction.

As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for you.. (Psalm 42:1)

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

The Church Universal: Reformation Review– I take a deeper look into the definition of a “universal church” in a post that focuses on theology of the reformation.

*As a Lutheran, I would say that glorifying God in church is best done through Word and Sacrament, but I realize that not all churches are sacramental and do not desire to start that debate here.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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