Evangelical Theology – “Commentary”


So a while back, I talked about reading through one of Barth’s more accessible books with some folks. I think a few people picked up the book, but we never really figured out a way to generate a meaningful conversation over it. In my own re-reading of it, I started feeling bad about the recommendation. “Accessible” may not be the first word that comes to mind for my friends who are reading it. So in lieu of a legitimate reading group, and in a spirit of wanting to honor the folks who actually spent some cold hard cash on the book, I’m going to blog my way through it in the the hopes that one or two of my reflections will help others to make some sense of what’s going on there. That is, of course, assuming that I’ll be able to make any sense of it myself.

In the introduction (which is oddly called, “Commentary”), Barth sets out to define what he means by the terms “Evangelical” and “Theology”. While there is some overlap between Barth’s use of the word “evangelical” and more current uses of the word to describe a conservative movement within the larger Church, Barth isn’t caught up in quite the same turf battles of recent American church history. Importing our meaning onto his meaning will be more frustrating than helpful. That said, Barth did write in response to the liberal Protestant theology of his own place and time. This is an over-simplification for sure, but liberal Protestantism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries sought to reinterpret Christianity in terms of universal human experience, thereby removing any of its particularity. Once Christian faith has been reduced to vague spirituality, then faith becomes a matter of religious feelings or “consciousness”. In as much as there are parallels between early 20th century liberal Protestantism and early 21st century (post-)evangelicalism, Barth’s critique is as relevant today as it was in his day. I’ll leave it to you (or we can take it up in the comments) to make the connections.

So when Barth wants to define theology, he is blatantly affirming that the object of study is God. “Evangelical” theology goes one or two steps further to say that God has revealed himself as not simply a divine being, but specifically a triune God, and one discovers this trinatarian God in the pages of scripture. I realize for some reading that this shouldn’t need to be spelled out in any detail. In most people’s mind Christian theology tries to makes sense of the God of the Bible, but in Barth’s day (and perhaps ours) this is not what theology had become. Theology for some is not study of God, but a study of man’s experience of God or religious feelings or intuitions. I’m not suggesting that those aren’t important subjects worthy of study, but they aren’t necessarily theology proper. One can (and many have) responded that all we are able to study is man’s experience of God. This isn’t necessarily the place to rehash a whole long history of epistemology and religious experience. Instead, I’ll simply make the somewhat naive suggestion that if we make it our goal to start with humanity and our experience of God, then we are committing ourselves to a never ending game of navel gazing. On the other hand, if we take the scriptures at their word that God has revealed himself and we set our sights on describing that self-revelation, then even while acknowledging all the limitations of human creatureliness, Barth suggests we are at least aiming at the right target. I understand that some would see any and all talk of God as the ultimate game of navel gazing, and that the whole theological enterprise is predictably circular. My sense is that any discourse on reality in general has a certain element of circularity to it, which is exactly why we need a Word from without to save us from that fate. Anyway, this line of reasoning could go on and on. Eventually, one simply has to acknowledge all the complexities and then define what one is going to attempt and then go from there. That is more or less what Barth is doing in this opening section.

There is much more that Barth can and will say about this act of God’s self-revelation. My insanely brief commentary on Barth’s “commentary” in Evangelical Theology doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, but hopefully these thoughts can help you to begin to make sense of the context in which Barth is carrying out his theological vision.


Four for Friday

I’ve been putting off completing the summer o’ travel series. I think it is safe to say that I’ve avoided talking about the final trip. In many respects, the trip I took to California was the most personal of the line up, and I don’t do “personal” very well. So I’ll bide my time with another installment of Four for Friday.

I’m a big Freelance Whales fan. New album drops sometime soon.

This is a side project by Manchester Orchestra’s front man.

A friend who is an electronica enthusiast tells me GRiZ is the goods.

Saw Bazan recently at a house show. It was good.

a sermon in the making

At church this past Sunday, I was on deck for the message. To say it had been a while since I’ve been up in the main service is a bit of an understatement. For various scheduling reasons, this was my one and only message all summer long. Our church has spent the summer reading and preaching through the Psalms and we’re pretty close to finishing up.

So which psalm does one choose when you have only one shot at it all summer? No brainer. Psalm 137. I’m not posting here to recap the message, if you are interested you can go listen HERE. My contribution to the service was average at best. And yet, many people appreciated the message and seemed to be impacted by it.

And here’s the reason why…

rocks church worship service idea
photo by lexi

Yup, rocks. Because when you preach a message about smashing infants on rocks, it makes perfect sense to have some rocks in the pews as a visual aid.

Please don’t stop reading here.

No smashing happened with these rocks. The reason I’m taking the time to post at all is to recognize that some of the best ideas for a message/worship service are not my own. For those of you who know me, this comes as no surprise. You’ve been unimpressed for a while.

The rock idea came about the way so many good preaching ideas come to be – through the input of others. Two weeks prior to the message, I met with a small group of people responsible for putting the worship service together. You are probably thinking… “You guys plan for what happens in Sunday?” Shocking, I know.

During that meeting, I shared the direction the message was taking. Something about how the psalms teach us that we can be honest with God. One of my team mates, Donna, suggests that it would be nice to have some way for people to respond. That maybe we could encourage them to have some sort of written response of their own. I agreed that it would be nice to have a way for people to tangibly respond, but I had a small concern that there are folks for whom having to produce something with paper and pen can be a little intimidating. We all agreed that some sort of response would be appropriate, and hopefully I didn’t kill the creativity with my reservation.

I don’t think I did, because one week later we come back to discussing the upcoming Sunday. We were still mulling over what might be a helpful response. Then Sarabeth, another person on the team, says that one time she was encouraged to write what I’m guessing was some not so good stuff down on rocks and then take them to a lake and throw them as far as she could.

At this point, I’m wondering how liable we would be if one of our congregants had their head split open by rocks we encouraged everyone in the service to throw. I guess that just goes to show how my stunted creativity truly is. It took me a while to figure out that there are other options besides throwing the rocks. Donna says that she really likes the rock idea and so we take the time to figure out how to make it work.

And come Sunday, it ends up being an incredible way for people to connect with what is really going on inside of them. People wrote all sorts of things down on their rocks. Honest things. Towards the end of the service, many of them chose to come forward and symbolically place these things before a God who is never surprised by who we really are.

rocks church worship service idea
photo by jalissa

And all of this came about because I have the privilege working with wonderful people who have good ideas and keep pressing on them until they become great ones.


Welcome to Square Pegs, my little corner of the blogosphere. Glad you took the time to drop by.

Here’s where you can find my sometimes coherent reflections on theology, books, music, camping, ministry, and the occasional tidbit on my personal life.

Odds are you got here from where I used to blog on wordpress.com. So if you haven’t taken the time to update your RSS feed/subscription, now would be the time to do it.


Ok. Hope you find something you like around here and thanks for dropping by.

Four for (Labor) Friday

Well, it is a holiday weekend and currently I’m a bit cooped up (in case you couldn’t tell). I obviously have no idea what your Labor Day weekend plans hold for you, but here’s some music to pass the time.

M83 – Midnight City

The Civil Wars – I Want You Back

Brooke Waggoner – So-So // This one comes courtesy of my friend, Jessica.

Josh Garrels – Farther Along

So this is the new year…

… and I don’t feel any different.”
Death Cab for Cutie

Often when I’m hiking, I can only see where the trail leads for the next several yards.  The surrounding landscape dictates how much is in view.  The rise or fall of the terrain.  The trees or rocks around me.  But occasionally, I’ll get to a place where everything opens up for a moment and I’m able to see the trail for a mile or more.  Those times can be especially helpful.  It is nice to know that I’m still moving in the right direction, and to see where I’m heading and what is involved in getting there.

This also describes how I feel at the beginning each new year.  Lots of the year, it feels like I have my head down and am simply plodding forward.  One day after the other.  But the rolling of the calendar from December to January provides an opportunity for me to mentally picture the year stretching out before me and envision what a new year might hold for me, my family, and the people I know and love.

Honestly, it is difficult to really know what the year has in store.  But Lord willing, there are a few things that I (and in some cases my family) will endeavor to accomplish in 2011.  I’m taking the liberty to share a few in the hopes that if I say it “out loud” that I’ll be more accountable to actually stay the course.

1) Bible Reading

Many started 2010 with the goal of reading the whole Bible through, and there were some who actually made it to the finish line.  It was a discipline and there were many a day that both for me and my friends it was simply a matter of churning through the chapters.  That being the case, the benefits of actually reading the entire Bible are hard to quantify, but they were numerous.  I’ll try to remember to come back to explaining them in future posts.

Anyway, I’m planning on doing it again.  I’m using a slightly different plan this year, and the reading will be delivered to my Google Reader via this little link.

2) Scripture Memory

Most everyone who did the Bible in a Year plan with me shared that they missed lingering in the Scripture.  Being given the luxury of time to dwell on a section, chapter, or book.  I felt that at times too, so I’ll be camping out in Philippians this year.  So much so that with any luck, the family and I hope to commit the entire book to memory.  The inspiration for this came from here.  I favor the NIV (2010), so I adapted it some.

I’ll keep you posted.

3) Praying for the World

Yup, that’s right…  the World!  After reading Radical, this was one tangible thing that I felt like I could do.  Plus, it is a great way for my family to learn the names of countries and little bit about them.  We’re using Patrick Johnstone’s Operation World as our guide.

While any of these would be monumental accomplishments on my part, these are just a few of the things I’m hoping to see happen in 2011.  There are many other hopes and dreams that I have for the year ahead, but they are the among the vast realm of things that I’m less willing to share in this venue.  Who knows?  Maybe a few of them will find their way onto here.

Stay tuned and Happy New Year!

reading in 2010

I know most of you are losing sleep wondering what is going to be on the infamous end-o-year mix tape.  So to pass the time, I’m going to share something approximating a “Top 5 Reads in 2010.”  However, as I’m prone to do, I’m going to spread this out over a few days.  Enjoy!

Best of the Best:

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that my favorite book of the year comes from my boy N.T.  In After You Believe, he talks biblically and sensibly (yes, you can do both) about what Christian character looks like and how it is formed in a person.  In his own words, this book is an attempt to answer the question, “What are we here for in the first place?”

The fundamental answer we shall explore in this book is that what we’re “here for” is to become genuine human beings, reflecting the God in whose image we’re made, and doing so in worship on the one hand and in mission, in its full and large sense, on the other.

As I’ve said before, Wright is one of the most influential biblical scholars around today.  Much of what filters down in various other writers and movements bears the stamp of his thinking, teaching, and writing.  You would be well served to spend some of your precious reading money and time becoming familiar with what he is saying.  I’ve read several books this year attempting to answer the “what are we here for” question, and they end up looking provincial in comparison.

One of the things that is particularly refreshing about Wright is that he doesn’t seem to get bogged down in culture wars.  I get the sense that this frustrates his would be critics who would just like to figure out if he is with or against them.  Conservatives tend to think he is too liberal, and liberals harbor suspicions that he is a closet-conservative.  Wright would rightly (no one ever tires of the play on words begging to be had with his name) affirm that both of these labels have outlived their usefulness and would be reluctant to use either to describe himself.

While After You Believe is as fine a place as any to start, I often point people towards The Challenge of Jesus as an intro to Wright.  It is profound, relatively short, and highly readable.  Starting with this book has the added benefit of beginning where I think all theological reflection should start…  Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures.

Up next…  theology meets the UFC.

Why Porno Shops Don’t Have Windows

I don’t often rip off someone’s blog post, but I came across this and it made me think.  Recently, I talked about the importance of the outdoors for men, and this post strengthened my case all the more.  Here’s a teaser…

Do you know why there are no windows on adult bookstores? Or do you know why there are no windows on certain kinds of nightclubs in the city?

I suppose your answer would be, “Well, because they don’t want people looking in and getting a free sight.”

That’s not the only reason.

You know why? Because they don’t want people looking out at the sky.

You know why? The sky is the enemy of lust.

Full post HERE.

By the way, this is an excerpt from a sermon by John Piper.  I know that might be a put off for some, but this is something a bit different.

(HT: JT)


And just like that, we’re all done.  Back around the first of the month, my beloved undertook a month-long blogging project.  Out of love and support, I decided to tag along.

I have to confess that it has been a challenge.  It took a while to get back into the routine of writing, and it took all month for me to figure out something that I wanted to say.  Truth be told, there were many days when it was nothing more than a discipline.  Meaning the only reason that I did it was because I had committed myself to doing it.  And I have to say, that’s not all bad.

Lately, I’ve been in a conversation or two about the the value of disciplines.  And while “discipline” can be talked about from a number of angles, I see it as something people do that they know to be good for them whether they want to or not.  And of course, any number of things might qualify here…  exercise, following a budget, household chores, reading scripture, loving one’s spouse, praying, and yes, writing on a blog.

These are the sorts of things that we force ourselves to do on a consistent basis because we know that if we will stick with it, then something good will eventually result.  None of the things named above come easily all the time.  Sure, sometimes we find it easy to live within our means at times, but there are lots of times when  it is nothing but hard work.  But we  stick with it (regardless of what “it” is) simply because we said we would.  That is what makes is a discipline.

So with regard for the month long blogging, I said I would do it, and I did.  And while the content was suspect at times (or throughout), this exercise accomplished what disciplines are always meant to do.

They free us to do those things that we would really like to do, but for whatever reason we find ourselves unable to.  We see disciplines as forced, artificial, inauthentic, rigid, not-true-to-self, but that’s got it all wrong.  Through disciplines, we are being true to the self that we would like to be.  In this instance, I wanted to write more on this blog not as a duty or out of guilt, but  simply because I want to.  The discipline of doing it daily for a month has helped move me in that direction.

That’s how it always works.  I choose to love God or my wife even when I’m not “feeling it,” not so that I can commend myself for being a great Christian or husband, but with the hope that my affections will catch up with my behavior.  And that eventually it won’t be forced, but rather it will be the natural expression of how I really feel (not that I’m feeling the need to force either right this second).

Alright, this is quickly turning into another series of posts, so I’ll spare us all and wrap it up.

Hopefully, you’ll be hearing more from me.

It has been fun.

the (not so) final word on manhood

While there certainly is much more that could and probably should be said about manhood, I think I’m about done with it.  Other people have had plenty more to say about this topic (as evidenced by the number of “man” books available at your local Christian bookstore).  If you are interested in reading more, here are the three that I have spent some time with in the last year.

Raising a Modern Day KnightRobert Lewis
Wild at HeartJohn Eldredge
To Own a DragonDonald Miller (It has been brought to my attention that this book has been reworked some and re-released as Father Fiction.  Of the three, this one – unsurprisingly – resonated with me most.)

Each one is good in its own way, but they are also very different from one another.

And I think it’s this variety that is in itself a clue about the nature of “man-making.”  The different ways proposed by “expert” men points to that which we already know at a gut level.  Boys become men via numerous well-worn paths.  I know that this eclectic way of looking at this subject isn’t nearly as cut-and-dry as most men (and for that matter, women) would like for it to be.  Most of us tend to prefer things to be a tad bit more concrete, and so I would suspect that my suggesting that there isn’t one definite path to manhood is more frustrating than reassuring for many (myself included at times).  And yet, that seems to be the nature of life.  Life is rarely cut-and-dry.  Rarely simple.

These caveats aside, I offer up a few summary reflections.  I realize that it isn’t much. But in proper man-style, my points are at least numbered.

1) There is no “one” way. I think I just said this, but for the sake of clarity, I’m saying it again.  Going through some six-week (or twenty-six week) program doesn’t insure that a person will become a man.  Not reading books.  Not memorizing definitions.  Not going camping.  Not “I love Jesus” chants.  I realize that it sounds like I’m knocking (or mocking) these things, but I’m not.  They are all fine things to do.  At certain times, they are even necessary.  They just aren’t the end-all-be-all.

The reason I’m not writing this stuff off is that each of these varied experiences does hold out the promise of at least one thing…

an opportunity.

In each retreat, seminar, reading, or _______, there exists the possibility for a man (be he young or old) to more fully grab hold of what it means to a man.  But it is just that, a possibility.  Not more, not less.  Which leads to the next point…

2) There are no guarantees. Just because the opportunity is out there, doesn’t mean that it is going to be taken advantage of.  Simply showing up to something isn’t the “fix” that a man needs to become more a man.  Each man chooses to let an experience be something that will move them deeper and closer to the essence of man-ness…  or not.  And while not everyone will respond to the challenge or experience (regardless of what it is) some will… and some do.

3) It involves a community of men. While I would certainly maintain that fathers bear the primary responsibility of ushering sons into manhood, there are plenty of situations where the father isn’t around or is unwilling to engage a son on that level.  That doesn’t mean that those young men don’t have a chance.  Plenty of other men can and do step into that role.  But…  even if a son has a great father, they (both the father and the son) will need more than one man to be in it with them.  For something as weighty as this, it stands to reason that God wouldn’t have put all his proverbial eggs in one predictably flawed basket.

4) The outdoors play a role. No need to rehash what I touched on yesterday, but I would say that spending time in God’s proving ground is at least as helpful as a book, or class, or definition, or whatever.  Being outside isn’t everything…  but it ain’t nothing.  So the value of it shouldn’t be undersold.

5) It is a process. I’m not sure when a young man is able to say, “That’s it! Today, I became a man.”  Pinpointing the exact moment that this happens is a futile exercise.  Instead of a single place and time, it is more likely the case that there are a series of moments.  Some small and seemingly insignificant.  Others immeasurably freighted with importance.  All of these combining and continuing to exert their influence long after the moments themselves have faded.  In fact, one could say that it is the memory (and the remembering/retelling/re-living) of the moment that determines its significance as a shaping event.

I’m seeing that take place in my thirteen year-old, as he struggles to both leave childhood behind while simultaneously clinging to certain aspects of it.  I see it in the students I work with nearly every day, as their hearts and souls expand to match their frames.  And, of course, as I look back on my own life, I see how the combination of crises, people, and experiences brought me to a time when I was willing to shoulder the mantle of manhood.  Even if it rests uneasily at times.

So much more could be said about his topic…  the role of mentors, living with tension and hardship, taking responsibility for oneself and others, what the Bible has to say, men in the church, etc…  So until the book (and workbook, and dvd series, and retreat) becomes available, this will have to do.