Now here’s a thing. One of my most significant theology teachers was Bruce B. We would come into class full of questions about the possibility of language about God, and the doubts sewn by the then popular philosophy of logical positivism and give our views. Bruce would say “But I would have thought…..” and say the opposite of what we had said. The little boats of our views would crash onto the rocks of Bruce’s ‘But I would have said.’ We wrestled, and struggled to try to understand what he said, and finally came to some understanding. Bruce was a ‘Barthian’.
The greatness of Karl Barth was for me, his saying “ ‘God’ is not ‘man’ spoken in a loud voice.”
In my reflections you can see some of what I learned from Bruce and Karl Barth since this way of thinking has been a touchstone for my theological approach ever since I sort of ‘got’ what Bruce was on about.
Just as an example, I often say about the resurrection ‘The resurrection is not an event within our ideas of history, that can be judged by the standards of history, but it is an event that creates history. The resurrection is should not be ‘proved’ but proclaimed. The question is not ‘did the resurrection ‘happen’ but instead ‘given its proclamation, what am I allowed to hope for’
The Orthodox say something like this too. They say ‘When Jesus was baptized, it was not the water that baptized him, but that he now changes the character of all water!’
Sometimes in my life people have said to me ‘You’re a priest, you can’t say that!’ or ‘You don’t look like a priest!’
So I reply ‘I’m a priest, let me tell you what priest’s look like. Or ‘I’m a priest, let me tell you what I can say!’
This is an example of a way of thinking that takes as a starting point, the thing that most argument wants to try to reach as a conclusion.
This way of thinking I hope follows St. Paul’s when he says (in my paraphrase) ’ You know. Both Jews and Greeks have to give up being what they are in order to be ‘in Christ.’ From now on, there is only ‘being in Christ.’ From now on, the only reality that there is, is ‘Christ’.
The first step is the ‘death’ of the old idea, in order to then discover the new life of ‘in-Christ-ness’.
I was made aware of this habitual way of thinking in conversation with friend of mine, Stephen, yesterday. He was talking to me about a book that he was writing. The purpose of the book was to make a way for the possibility of belief I a secular world. My Stephen’s method, (I hope I have it right) was different from mine, and I had not really seen it before.
Here is what he does. The first step is to really ‘get inside’ the world of his conversation partner. This is a real listening. This represents a real sympathy and yes, love for the people who are the conversation partners.
Then he starts to explore this world with the people in conversation. This exploration gradually starts to expose the ‘cracks’ in the reasoning of the conversation partner, or to show where the argument is heading, if it is followed faithfully.
I had not really ‘seen’ this before. I am impressed, and a little shamed because I can see how it takes a bigger risk to step into the world of another, and to let that world become ‘mine’ for a time, in order in the end to ‘show the way out’ of that world into another. This takes both the assurance that one’s own world is not going to be swamped by entering into the world of another. It requires that one has to be able not simply to ‘find one’s own idea’ but one has to be able to ‘think on one’s feet’, to respond to a new situation there and then.
This approach embodies what I recognise as incarnational qualities. My friend is embodying the ‘self emptying’ that Jesus shows when he enters into our world.
Then there was another thing that Stephen told me about yesterday. He said “At the church where I work, I have invited the people into a practice of prayer. I have made some little cards that I have given out, which have on it a form of prayer that people can use morning or evening. This is a way that I hope to add something to the Christian Practice of the congregation. One person said that they had left this card on their desk at work, and another person had taken it.’
So it is the invitation to a practice that is one result of Stephen’s ‘getting inside of’ the world of another.
Here is where I think Bruce and I, along with Stephen find common cause. The literature on ‘conversion’ says that there are two ways of approaching another. One way is called ‘sense breaking’ where the shock of another view causes questioning ion the conversation partner (provided of cause that the degree of ‘sense breaking’ is not so great as to push them away altogether!). The other method is called ‘dream building’ where from within the deepest hopes of the conversation partner, a ‘better way’ is discovered. Both forms of conversation need a foundation of relationship on which to base a conversation. Both forms of approach need to lead to some form of activity. I remember the advice that ‘people will be more likely to act themselves into new ways of thinking, than think themselves into new ways of acting’. But none the less, a foundation of love and respect, conversation and action are the ways in which life itself goes, for Christians as well as any one else.
This is what both Bruce and I ad Stephen are aiming at, and how we are part of the same story, rather than being as odds with each other. We are united in the commitment to connection, conversation, and action.
Nevertheless, I take to heart Stephens capacity of love, and willingness to enter into the world of another as his most natural way of working .
I guess that my own life has been spent trying to ‘define myself’ ‘’over against’ the world in which I was embedded, that this has become my natural way of working. But being judged by seeing how lovingly Stephen approaches another, and how gently, I want to take it to heart, and to see what effect this may have on me. “In the clearing stands a boxer….”