Discipline and Freedom


Every Discipline has its corresponding freedom…The purpose of the Disciplines is freedom. Our aim is the freedom, not the Discipline. The moment we make the Discipline our central focus, we turn it into law and lose the corresponding freedom.

The Disciplines are for the purpose of realizing a greater good. In and of themselves they are of no value whatever. They have value only as a means of setting us before God so that he can give us the liberation we seek. The liberation is the end; the Disciplines are merely the means. They are not the answer; they only lead us to the Answer. We must clearly understand this limitation of the disciplines if we are to avoid bondage. Not only must we understand, but we need to underscore it to ourselves again and again so severe is our temptation to center on the Disciplines. Let us forever center on Christ and view the Spiritual Disciplines as a way of drawing us closer to his heart.

~ Richard J. Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, 110-111

“Here Breaks Out the Veritable God-Sickness”

Last night my wife and I had some friends over to play board games. The first game we played was “Pandemic.”


The premise of the game: 4 diseases are infecting the planet. You’re a CDC team (all the players playing), who must work together to build research centers, travel to infected cities, and cure these 4 diseases before one of the diseases reaches critical mass, or before too many cities experience disease “outbreaks” into neighboring cities. It’s a devastatingly difficult game, where you all work together really well and the game will still win. It’s also a lot of fun.

And then this morning, I opened up Barth on Romans 9, where he launches into a detailed description of the Church: “Here breaks out the veritable God-sickness.” Praise be to the Spirit, who “works all things together.”

Romans 9:1-5 | “The Tribulation of the Church: Solidarity”

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Okay, I admit I was a little lost when I re-read Paul — Why is Barth writing about the Church if Paul is writing about Israel? — until I understood that Barth sees Israel as the Church, as the original “called out ones.” His treatment of the Church is cataclysmic and over-the-top, but I will definitely have to return to it when I begin studying “ecclesiology” with more attention.

The Church…is the place where the eternity of revelation is transformed into a temporal, concrete, directly visible thing in this world…In the Church, faith, hope, and love are directly possessed, and the Kingdom of God directly awaited, with the result that men band themselves together to inaugurate it, as though it were a THING which men could have and await and work for…To sum up: the Church is the endeavor to make the incomprehensible and unavoidable Way intelligible to men.

What an amazing and weighty thing to say of the Church.

[note: Barth is “not here concerned with some debased form of religion, but with the ideal and perfect Church.” I’m not sure that this distinction is possible from a pragmatic view, but then, Barth, a dialectical theologian, takes on “impossible possibilities” all the time.]

What if we (local churches) gathered together Sunday morning expecting “the eternity of revelation” and banding together to “await” and “inaugurate” the Kingdom of God? What if we lived our day-in, day-out lives seeking “to make the incomprehensible and unavoidable Way [Jesus Christ!] intelligible to men”: with our words, with our time, with our bodies, with our credit cards, with our whole lives?

pandemic 2Last night, we had cured 3 of the 4 diseases, and were sure we would easily defeat the 4th within the next 4 turns. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the game turned on us and wiped out all of Europe with a disease we had already cured. The frustration and defeat was palpable. Barth writes: “The God-sickness of men will always tend to break out in new forms.” Barth’s vision of the Church seems to be another “impossible possibility.” But what if we saw the Kingdom of God — this “God-sickness” — to be just as inevitable as one of these fictitious plagues: overrunning city after city, spreading from continent to continent so rapidly and fully that no cultural obstacle or human stubbornness or political legislation could turn it back? Would we not be eager and excited to stand in solidarity with the Church, because “here breaks out the veritable God-sickness”?

“Led by the Spirit of God”

In this season of Ordinary Time, and in this season of summer, it is profoundly difficult for me to keep my nose to the grindstone and persevere in work. Kids are running around with balls and bikes and water balloons; friends are spending their afternoons at the beach; the sun begs to be enjoyed. At first glance, “work” would not have surfaced as an obvious theme of Romans 8; however, after reading this and reading Barth, I can’t help but see my work as a profound implication of the Truth.

Romans 8:11-17 | “The Spirit: The Truth” (part 1)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Barth focuses, after Paul, on the role and reality of the Holy Spirit in this passage. Barth insists that the Spirit is the Truth, and as such, we have a much more complicated relationship with “Truth” than we usually admit. Here are a few of his assertions:

    • “Truth is not what we say about God, but what He does and will do and has done.”
    • “Truth is no objective observation of the Truth; for its objectivity is that by which we are observed before ever we have observed anything at all…Truth cannot therefore depend upon my observation.”
    • “We cannot begin with Truth, for it is our beginning.”
    • “Truth therefore, does not stand and fall with us, does not live and die with us, is not right whe we are right and wrong when we are deceived, does not triumph in our victory and fail when we are defeated. Truth is death poised above the cradle; it is life breathing o’er the grave.”

Because the Spirit (the Truth) is at work within us, was at work before us, and continues to work ahead of us, Barth lays out an interesting image of what it means to respond to the Truth and to follow the Truth.

“There is no warm sunset glow which succeeds the storm of our lives — save by the orientation which is given to men by God Himself and by God alone. This orientation is embarrassment, threatening, promise, the final security of insecurity, which, as the reflection of light uncreated, encompasses every created thing. This orientation is the End which announces the Beginning, is the eternal disturbance and the eternal peace, is the command which banishes us from every quiet or unquiet nook and compels us to faith, because our veritable redemption can only be believed in. — Such is the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”

compassThis image of “orientating,” of discerning “True” cardinal directions in relation to (in spite of?) the surrounding environment and positioning ourselves accordingly, is a fascinating picture of how we respond to the Spirit’s direction, as though the Spirit were the compass by which we understand the cultural and religious landscapes within which we live.

“By the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, by the knowledge of God, we are…orientated from west to east, from death to life; the Holy Spirit exercises His function of judgment and of consolation; the Truth is the Truth — this is the meaning of our being led by the Spirit of God.”

In the Reformed Tradition, the Spirit’s work is most closely linked to the Bible, making the Word of God living, active, and clear to our human understanding. If the Bible is our map for navigating our lives, then, according to Barth, the Spirit is our compass.

May God, our True North,
make His Word clear to us
— both the map-pages of His Written Word
and the living Guide of His Word Incarnate —
and send His Spirit of Truth to swivel and spin within us,
directing our wills and desires and interests
according to His will, His design, His character,
So that we might orient ourselves accordingly,
with careful precision and dynamic obedience,
to be and act in our worlds
— our workplaces, our families, our homes, our leisure — 
perfectly aligned, and continually realigning, to God.

“The Mission of the Son”

I have a growing feeling that I am going to have to reconsider this daily posting thing. However, I have been doing some routine maintenance here, and I have settled on the new theme (at least for the next several months). I hope you enjoy the new look, and more of the same reflections on Barth.

Romans 8:1-10 | “The Spirit: The Decision”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Barth is very thorough in expounding on the text; I got a little lost. But what struck me (i.e. recaptured my attention) was his exposition of what God was up to “by sending his own Son” (v.3); or, as Barth calls it, “the mission of the Son.”

GOD SENDS HIM [the Son]–not to change this world of ours, not for the inauguration of a moral reformation of the flesh, not to transform it by art, or to rationalize it by science, or to transcend it by the Fata Morgana of religion, but to announce the resurrection of the flesh; to proclaim the new man who recognizes himself in God, for he is made in His image, and in whom God recognizes himself, for He is his pattern; to proclaim the new world where God requires no victory, for there He is already Victor, and where He is not a thing in the midst of other things, for there He is All in All; and to proclaim the new Creation, where Creator and creature are not two, but one.

Barth narrowly defines “the mission of the Son” in such a way that Jesus’ message or ministry cannot be hijacked by human agendas or re-interpreted to suit our personal or political preferences. “The mission of the Son” is not merely rearranging our human societies (a kind of social/political/economic feng shui) according to even our best human standards of equality or fairness or justice. According to Barth, Jesus did not come to transfigure even the noblest of our earthly endeavors: arts, sciences, ethics, religion!

I find these negations a little hard to swallow. I will have to continue to ruminate on them. Nevertheless, I am entirely on board with Barth’s affirmations. God DID send his Son Jesus:

  • “to announce the resurrection,”
  • “to proclaim the new man,”
  • “to proclaim the new world,” and
  • “to proclaim the new Creation.”

Jesus is doing something entirely different, entirely new, something that doesn’t conform to or stand within any of our paradigms, not even our religious ones. He calls all of us to die, to rise again with Him, and to walk in newness of life. Praise God for His good news, and for sending His Son as both messenger and message of New Life.