Thursday, June 08, 2006


Well, the time has finally come. With all the trouble I've had posting to I am moving. is the new address for my blog, which will also include my website.

Moltmann Quote

Last week I posted another one of my “reading updates”, which I’m sure few people actually read. However, in that update I mentioned that I was going to focus some of my reading in the next few months to the topic of eschatology. I completed a series of dictionary entries on the topic and have begun delving into Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope. Today I came across a quote that justifies all my efforts in this area:

“Christian eschatology in the language of promise will be then an essential to the unlocking of Christian truth. For the loss of eschatology – not merely as an appendix to dogmatics, but as the medium of theological thinking as such – has always been the condition that makes possible the adaptation of Christianity to its environment, and as a result of this, the self-surrender of faith”

- Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, Pg. 41.

More on Truth...

My friend John Creasy posted a comment on one of my last posts that I thought was good.  So, I’m reposting it here along with my reply to him in an email.

John’s Comment:

Thanks Brian, great critiques. A question I have in my mind now is: what is the difference between "experiencing truth" and "experiencing the revelation of God"? Does not the ultimate knowledge of truth come through God's revelation, precisely the work of Jesus Christ? If that is true, maybe we should talk more about God's revelation. I think it will take a big step for some of us to really believe that Christ is at work and that our experiences may include the reality of revelation.

My Reply:

Hi John,

(This response is going to double as a blog post - hence the tone)

Good comments.  I think you're right on.  As far as I see it "experiencing Truth" and "experiencing the revelation of God", since Truth = Jesus Christ = Revelation of God is precisely the same.  The problem that I often see when it comes to talking about "experiencing revelation" is that the work of the Holy Spirit often gets confused with our inner emotions.  We talk about God speaking through the world, fine and true, but how is that grounded in continuity with God's revelation?

There is a great quote from Karl Barth on how God speaks to the world:
"God may speak to us through Russian Communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog.  We do well to listen to him if he really does.  But unless we regard ourselves as prophets and founders of a new Church, we cannot say that we are commissioned to pass on what we have heard as independent proclamation"  (Church Dogmatics, v.1.1 - The Word of God, Pg. 55)

People often quote the first part to say, "Look, even Barth acknowledged that God can speak through the world!" but forget the very important second part (and the rest of the page for that matter).  I think we need to recapture the idea of Jesus Christ's on-going work and yes, revelation to individuals and the community.  We need to have the boldness to say, "Jesus revealed to our community that he wants us to be involved in ________".  But we need to make sure that we experience and believe is revelation that is in continuity with the past revelation of God and the future direction of God's work in the world (hence the important of eschatology in ministry (which will be one of my next posts).  If what you believe God is revealing isn't in line with what God has done in the world and has revealed that he will do, chances are you're missing the boat somewhere.

Enjoy the rest of your vacation!

- Brian

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More on Truth...

As a follow up to my post yesterday on Chuck Colson’s critique of the Emerging Church and truth, I thought I’d share a few other thoughts that I have been having on the issue.  

One of the distinctions that Karl Barth draws is the difference between being something objectively true and subjectively true.  What is interesting is that Barth doesn’t speak of “objective truth” but rather of something being “objectively true”.  In other words, the proposition is not itself the Truth, it’s a statement about the Truth.  ( I feel as though I’m starting to play word games here)

Example: Jesus Christ is the Lord over all things

Jesus Christ is the Truth, and that statement is objectively true for all people and things in Barth’s view (and I agree).  So, Colson is right to say that Jesus Christ is the Lord whether we experience him or not.  The Lordship of Jesus Christ does not depend on our acknowledgement of it.  

However, Barth adds that something that is objectively true becomes subjectively true in someone’s life when they encounter and experience it.  Here’s another example

From the time I was born (and before that) Jesus Christ has been Lord over my life, whether or not I realized it or accepted it.  However, that objectively true statement (Jesus Christ is Lord over my life) didn’t become true “to me” until I was encountered by it, until it became subjectively true in my life.  It was only through this subjective knowing (knowing in the here and now) that I came to understand the objective nature (that it was true prior to my knowing of it).  I disagree with Colson and D.A. Carson here, in part because they’re speaking of objective truth, and I’m speaking of something being objectively true when it comes to the Truth, Jesus Christ.

More later…

Chuck Colson, truth, Truth, and the Emerging Church

Before I say anything else let me say this: Chuck Colson is a good man and a genuine Christian.  While I disagree with him on a number of important issues (as I will below) his work in prison ministry and his own personal life testimony are living examples of the power of the Holy Spirit to transform people’s lives.  So, if anything I say in the following comes across as anything but gracious my apologies.

In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Chuck along with his assistant authored a piece entitled Emerging Confusion: Jesus is the truth whether we experience him or not.  In it, Chuck takes a run at Emerging Church people in general.  This isn’t the first time he’d done so, a fact he admits by noting that he had had an exchange with an emerging church leader (Brian McLaren – here).  I would encourage you to read Chuck’s full column first before reading the excepts below.  

#1) Though in their effort to reach postmoderns—who question the existence and knowability of truth—I expressed fear that they are coming dangerously close to teaching that objective truth does not exist

Here is the typical line about “postmoderns” – they question the existence and knowability of truth.  But, this is a mischaracterization of the use of the term as far as I’m concerned.  To be “postmodern” is to be living in today’s world.  We live in a postmodern world whether we want to or not.  Also, the values of postmodernism can better be described by what they are not rather than by what they are.  I consider myself a “postmodern” because I reject the modern project and its hope for universal and independent knowledge built upon a self-evident basis (more on this later).  While I affirm in full that we can know things as they are, this knowing is never without a social location.  When I look at things, read things, and speak I speak as a 25 year old protestant middle-class male.  This doesn’t mean I can’t speak of things as they are, but my knowing is always shaped by who I am as a person.

The debate is not as Chuck contends over the existence and knowability of truth, but over the nature of truth.  After all, if someone doesn’t believe truth can exist and be known there’s no debate at all.  

2) Of course, truth becomes relational when we come to Jesus, Truth himself. But our doing that isn't what makes it true. He is the truth whether or not we ever experience him. Scripture is never less than revealed propositional truth.

Here is where my disagreement with Chuck becomes most evident.  Scripture is not revealed propositional truth – that is not scriptures original intent nor should it be used in that way.  This way of reading the bible requires you to read it and then “derive the facts” from it.  No, scripture is never less than the living testimony of God’s faithfulness to the world as shown in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.  Karl Barth and the signers of the Theological Declaration of Barmen had it right when they said that Jesus Christ is the one Word of God in whom we have to hear, listen, and obey.  Scripture as the Word of God, is never less than that which reveals Jesus Christ, not propositions or even propositions about him.

3) The pastor, who lacks formal seminary training, offered not a sermon, but the story of his decision to "follow Jesus."

This line in the story as far as I can tell is either a pot-shot or just irrelevant.  But here’s a few things to ask here.  (1) When did formal seminary training become the be all and end all of someone’s ability to be a pastor?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m seminary trained and believe its extremely helpful, but I’ve worked with a lot of people who aren’t and I don’t think one can take a shot at emerging churches by claiming that some of their leaders lack formal seminary training.  (2) What’s a sermon?  I preached a “sermon” one night which was my faith story about how I ended up where I am today and how I’ve seen God at work in my life.  Does that count as a sermon or not?  (3) When did deciding to follow Jesus become a bad thing?  Last time I checked that was what Jesus asked people to do – “follow me.”

4) Theologian Donald A. Carson puts his finger precisely on the epistemological problem: Of course, truth is relational, Carson writes. But before it can be relational, it has to be understood as objective. Truth is truth. It is, in short, ultimate reality.

Here Colson makes an interesting move – he appeals to a self-evident universal.  He makes the statement that before truth can be known as relational it has to be understood as objective.  First of all, I haven’t a clue what that actually means.  Does this mean that when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of someone they first known the proposition Jesus is Lord and then it can become relational?  I don’t follow.  He then collapses back on this statement, “Truth is Truth”.  What?  That doesn’t make any sense at all.  In essence what Colson is saying is this: “Look, everyone knows what truth is, it’s self-evident.”  This is an example of foundationalism – the appeal to self-evident propositions that are universally accessible to any rational person.  But, foundationalism is long dead and has been well-critiqued.

So what is my solution?  Truth isn’t propositional, truth is personal because Truth is defined by a person, Jesus of Nazareth, who said “I, I am the way, the truth, and the life”.  Jesus Christ, as the one through whom all things were created (John 1) and as the image of the invisible God (Col 1) reveals who and what truth is – the truth is Jesus Christ.  

Categories such as absolute, objective, subjective, etc. aren’t really helpful for a Christian because we have one Truth, Jesus Christ.  

Again, to restate, my beef is not with Chuck Colson as a brother-in-Christ but with his misunderstanding of what Emerging Church-types are after.  

For another critique of Colson from a slightly different angle, see Tony Jones’ post

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ephesians 2:11-16

Biblical Text
" Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility." (Ephesians 2:11-16, TNIV)  

Commentary from the Early Church Fathers(1)
The New Spiritual Person. Marius Victorinus: Their souls have thus been reconciled to the eternal and the spiritual, to all things above. The Savior, through the Spirit, indeed the Holy Spirit, descended into souls. He thereby joined what had been separated, spiritual things and souls, so as to make the souls themselves spiritual. He has established them in himself, as he says, “in a new person.” What is this new person? The spiritual person, as distinguished from the old person, who was soul struggling against flesh. Epistle to the Ephesians 1.2.14–15.

The Enmity Is Slain in Himself. Gregory of Nyssa: Taking up the enmity that had come between us and God on account of sins, “slaying it in himself,” as the apostle says (and sin is enmity), and becoming what we are, he joined the human to God again through himself. Against Eunomius 3.10.12.

My Comments
In reading these verses of Ephesians, vs. 15-16 really stuck out to me.  Specifically this line, “For he himself is our peace… by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.”  The second line that stuck out to me was “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity…”

I sometimes worry that much of our church-talk ends up spiritualizing everything to the point that we can turn this life into a mere holding tank for eternal life – that’s when life will really begin.  Yet here in the second chapter of Ephesians Paul reveals part of the gospel message that I think is essential.  The work of Christ was done in true human flesh, as Marius points out, as the Holy Spirit was joined to human flesh.  So to say that this human body is useless just doesn’t hold up.  The second is the end result of Jesus’ incarnation and life was to create a new humanity.  Jesus did not become incarnate to provide an escape path from the human body (as Gnosticism holds) but rather to restore humanity to what it was supposed to have: full and complete fellowship with God.  Part of this was to “make new” the human body into the “true humanity” that was intended by God from the beginning”.

Finally, Paul points out that the atonement wasn’t just simply about going to heaven after you die, but that part of Jesus’ atoning work was to kill those barriers that separated groups of people from one another.  This, like every other aspect of the atonement, is only part of what Jesus did, but it is an important part.  Thus, the church has the commission to be a part of God’s ongoing reconciliation within the world.  Wherever there are people divide from one another, God is at work seeking to reconcile divided peoples because at the end there will be no division amongst people based on any human attribute.

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–394). Bishop of Nyssa and brother of Basil the Great. A Cappadocian father and author of catechetical orations, he was a philosophical theologian of great originality.

Marius Victorinus (b. c. 280/285; fl. c. 355–363). Grammarian of African origin who taught rhetoric at Rome and translated works of Platonists. After his conversion (c. 355), he wrote against the Arians and commentaries on Paul’s letters.

  1. All comments taken from: M. J. Edwards, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 8. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 139-140.

  2. Biographical information is from: ACCS Introduction and Bibliographic Information, Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005).

Reading Update

So now that all the graduation and wedding craziness is over, I thought I’d finally update my “currently reading” section.  

My goal is from here on out (and this will be easier said than done) is to be reading four things all at the same time.   1) Something from Karl Barth 2) Something contemporary in theology 3) Something classical in theology 4) Something related to Youth Ministry.

So, currently here’s what I’m working on
  1. Karl Barth – Church Dogmatics 1.1

  2. Jurgen Moltmann – Theology of Hope

  3. Hilary of Poitiers – On the Trinity

  4. Starting Right – Thinking Theologically About Youth Ministry.

What I’ve found is that I actually do better reading multiple books at the same time rather than trying to focus on just one book and read that all the way through.  Of late I’ve spent more time with the Starting Right book.  It’s a book that was assigned for my Foundations of Youth Ministry class so I’ve read sections of it, but never the whole thing.  I thought it was pertinent for my situation.

I started Church Dogmatics 1.1 last spring but it got shelved during the school year.  My goal is to finish the whole church dogmatics by the time I’m 40.  I’ve read all of 4.1 and significant chunks of 1.1 and 3.4 so I think I have a chance of making it.  

Theology of Hope my Moltmann is part of a larger project through which I’m trying to get a grasp of eschatology.  I’ve found that eschatology seems to be a neglected area of thought in the reformed tradition, at least the part in which I’ve come out of it.  But, if “eschatology is the orienting factor for the mission of the church”, as Grenz and Franke contend it’s an importa area of study.  I’m actually prefacing Moltmann by reading a number of articles on eschatology from various biblical and theological dictionaries.  

Finally, since I don’t think just because something is newer that it’s better, Hilary of Poitiers On the Trinity makes the list.  I was introduced to Hilary through my study of T.F. Torrance, and more recently through my good friend Matt Bell who relied on him extensively in his Masters’ Thesis work.  

So, you might ask what does this have to do with real life?  After all, I certainly don’t expect that my parishioners (including teenagers) will start reading Karl Barth right?  Of course not.  However, my “field of study” has a living subject, The Triune God and regardless of “cool” I am or regardless of what techniques I use to teach, or how fun an event is – If I’m not faithfully bearing witness to the God who is, my participation in God’s ministry will be severely hindered.

Wedding #2

So on Saturday Renee and I celebrated our second wedding at our Alma Matter in Grove City.  Most importantly, and unlike wedding #1, we were joined by 150 of our friends and family who witnessed our vows and pledged their support to us.  

One of the coolest parts of our wedding was our cake, done by my mother-in-law.  All homemade with three different layers consisting of three different types of cake and filling.  But taking the “cake” for me was the bottom layer: chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and peanut butter filling.

Definitely the coolest part was seeing friends and family, many of whom we hadn’t seen in quite some time.  Family and friends came from as close as Pittsburgh and Warren, or as far as Upstate New York, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida.  

Now we have 10 days to relax before we move Renee’s stuff from Columbia, MD to our new house.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

New Schedule

So one of the parts of being married to a teacher is adjusting to a whole new schedule.  So here it is, 7:30 in the morning, and I can honestly say I’ve been awake for about a half hour.  I’m sitting at Renee’s dining room table and preparing to start scanning photos for the slideshow.  My goal, is to finish our slideshow today so that Renee and I can work on seating tonight.

Monday, May 29, 2006


After over a year and a half, the long distance relationship for Brian and Renee is over (the long distance part that is).  Technically it ended on Thursday evening when Renee arrived (just in time for graduation) in Pittsburgh.  But, it feels over because yesterday we drove back to Maryland together and will be together from now until the night before Wedding #2, and then from there after.  While the long distance relationship was without a doubt worth it, I am glad it’s over.  We both commented today as we were working that it was a lot easier to get work done when the other person is in the same room, and you’re not worried about talking to them on the phone.  

Anyway, this week’s agenda includes finalizing table assignments for the wedding, printing table cards, scanning pictures, and making a video, all before we head back to Ohio this Thursday for the rehearsal, parties, and wedding this weekend.  Then back to Maryland for about a week, before we move everything, for good, to our new house.  

Also, pictures from Wedding #1 have been posted.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Well, there I am, hooded and officially graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with my fancy Master of Divinity degree. For the first time in my life, I enter a summer without planning on returning to school in September. For now, its off for a weekend with Renee's family (as her grandmother passed away this week), a short week in Maryland, then Wedding #2 a week from tomorrow. Things keep happening fast! Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 22, 2006


I'm married.

From Left to Right:
Renee's wedding ring, my wedding ring, Renee's engagement ring

As some reader's know, Renee grandmother has not been doing well lately. It became quite evident to us last week that she would be unable to attend the wedding on June 3rd even if she is still alive at that point. It was really important to both Renee and her grandmother that her grandmother is at the wedding (and I agree). So, we made a slight change in plans: we got married on Saturday.

Renee's pastor from home came over to Renee's grandmother's house, we crowded into her room around her bed, we said our vows, exchanged rings, and had communion and were told "You are now husband and wife"

So now the question? What about June 3rd? (Our original wedding date). Nothing changes. We're still celebrating our marriage on June 3rd as originally planned. But why you ask? Very simple: there's a theological reason.

The service on the third has from the beginning been entitled "A Service of Christian Worship in Celebration of the Marriage of Marilyn Renee Barfay and Brian Robert Wallace." Wedding ceremonies are by definition worship services and that's what we had this past Saturday and that's what we're going to have on June 3rd. Also, while Renee and I consider ourselves married, weddings aren't just about the couple, they're also for the family and friends of the bride and groom. In a wedding ceremony the family and friends pledge to uphold and support the bride and room in their marriage. While some of Renee's family was present on Saturday, a lot of her relatives, my entire family, and a lot of our friends weren't at the wedding on Saturday. Needless to say, it's important for us that they also witness our vows and pledge their love and support.

Finally, what constitues our marriage isn't a ceremony, it's the love that we share between us. A wedding ceremony as part of a worship service is a time for the husband and wife to make commitments to each other before the Triune God and their friends and family, and to ask God's blessing upon the new couple. As they say with ordinations, the act of ordaining someone is merely making public and formal a decision that God made a long time ago. This isn't to devalue the important of having wedding celebrations, but rather to put them in their appropriate context within worship services as well as to understand them and celebrations and formulations of something, rather a mechanic blessing that makes something a marriage. Hence, I don't think it's weird we're going to have two but rather believe it was the "command of God in a limiting case" (for you Barth scholars). In other words, given the circumstances (which are unusual) I think we did the right thing - the thing that God would have us do.

(Leave it to me to make this into a theological issue)
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