Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Resources for biblical studies on the Internet abound, and a recently discovered favorite of mine are academic lectures on mp3. While keeping in mind the limits of this medium, it can be an efficient and engaging use of dead time; it’s certainly better than whistling, since the dangers of prolonged puckering are well known. In any case, if you’ve got an iPod (or another mp3 player), check out the following sites – and if you’re aware of others, be a pal and post the link in the comments!
Friday, August 26, 2005
UPDATE: For a great introduction into the Just War tradition, particularly in relationship to American foreign policy, check out this lecture by Jean Bethke Elshtain. Dr. Elshtain is a professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago. Also be sure to check out an interesting post on the ThinkTank regarding Justin Martyr's take on the relationship of church and state.
Lately I've been reading a book by J. Daryl Charles (a Union University ethics prof.) called Between Pacifism and Jihad.
It's something of a primer on just War theory, and as such critically interacts with the recent neo-traditionalist and pacifistic trajectories of Yoder and Hauerwas. Though it has its fair share of mischaracterization, and in my estimation doesn't reallly do justice to the heart of Yoder's theological critique, its been rather informative as to the development of America's consensus on the ethics of war and violence. It also highlights how Just War advocates are driven by precisely the issues raised by the weaknesses of the books mentioned in my previous post. But just as Hauerwas and Camp raise some unanswered (or insufficiently answered) questions, Charles raises a few of his own. I thought I'd post some of them for your comment and interaction:
- Does Augustine’s concept of “two cities” accommodate the apocalyptic aspects of the Gospel? In other words, how does someone with a "dual citizenship" emphasis preach the kingdom of God as a real alternative to the kingdoms of this world?
- If pacifism marginalizes civic responsibility, does just war theory inadvertently marginalize the Gospel as only dealing with “otherworldly” concerns?
- How can one be faithful to the exclusivity of the Gospel and at the same time admit a basis for justice and peace not rooted in the Gospel (but are instead “rooted in moral realities” that are not “narrowly Christian” pg. 60)? In other words, does Just War Theory cleave faith from reason in Enlightenment fashion?
- Is just war theory naïve in assuming that modern acts of war are in fact an execution of justice aimed at restraining evil? In other words, when governments resort to war in their pursuit of agendas outside of God’s moral will, with no redemptive trajectory in sight, can that war be called “just”?
- Is it naïve to assume (as just war theory does) that one can pursue public policy (including war) for the best good of all apart from religous or ideological motives? If so, the question becomes: which religious or ideological motives should be driving these decisions?
- When can pursuing national interest and international competition be called sin, and when should it be considered a necessary good (as appropriate boundaries of stewardship given by God)?
- By what authority is a state recognized as legitimate so that it may fulfill the duties assigned to it in Ro. 13 (including "bearing the sword")?
I don't even have a provisional answer to any of these questions, so be a pal and PLEASE COMMENT!!!
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. By Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1989. 175 pgs. $16.00.
Though John Howard Yoder spent much of his career with a strange disinterest in academic publishing or scholarly recognition, he managed to leave an indelible mark on the landscape of contemporary biblical theology. His most well known work, The Politics of Jesus was among Christianity Today’s most important Christian books of the 20th C. and has continued to challenge prevailing evangelical assessments of just war and the relationship between church and state. Two offerings of Yoder’s progeny, one old and one new, carry the torch he lit in 1972 when PoJ was first published. In these volumes Stanley Hauerwas (professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity school) and Lee Camp (assistant professor of Christian ethics at Lipscomb University) have sought to bring the insights of Yoder’s more technical work to a broader audience.
Although both works commend pacifism as inseparable from Christianity, the central thesis explored by Camp and Hauerwas can be appreciated by even the most committed just-war advocate; namely the vision of the Church as God’s kingdom, an alternative community to the kingdoms and cultures of this world. It is because these books herald that message so boldly that everyone who calls himself a conservative evangelical should probably read them every day and twice on Sunday. There are two flimsy poles anchoring the net of those who proudly wear that label. On one side there are the mega-Church marketers who offer salvation along with a free oil-change (while you drink a Gospel-ccino at the café located in the church foyer) and on the other side there are those whose identity is so wrapped up in defending a list of propositions that if everyone were to suddenly agree, they would instantly kill themselves. What’s missing on both ends, of course, is the concept of a confident commonwealth marked out every bit as much by its practices as its propositions.
But the vision offered by Camp and Hauerwas is not the “best of both worlds” from these two outlooks, a melding of evangelistic zeal from the church growth movement and the community-exclusivity of the doctrinal vanguard. It is, rather, a radical critique of both of them in the hopes of an entirely new synthesis. The root of that critique is in the contention that from at least as far back as Constantine the Church has been co-opted by competing powers that remain under God’s judgment. By identifying our primary heritage as American (or anything other than the people of God – spiritual descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) we have implicitly bought into their story of the world, which is in direct conflict with the Biblical story. In so doing the Church loses its identity as an alternative path. Hauerwas notes: “Each age must come, fresh and new, to the realization that God, not nations, rules the world. This we can know, not through accommodation, but through conversion” (pg. 28). The cash value of this for evangelicals is to expose all of our unholy alliances which we routinely use as escape hatches from the Sermon on the Mount (i.e. American democratic ideals, conservative republicanism, consumerism, patriotic nationalism, etc.). These alliances (which both authors refer to as “Constantinianism” or “the Constantinian cataract) not only pervert Gospel definitions of concepts like freedom, religious liberty, fiscal responsibility and so on, but they virtually erase the lines between the church and the world in all matters public and political.
This, of course, relegates the Church to the backwoods of irrelevancy in public life; just one insipid offer of personal fulfillment among many. Instead of the Church being the evidence of God’s work in reclaiming the world, it becomes an optional resource for personal inspiration to those who would seek it. It’s no wonder that “witnessing” in this framework has become something less than testifying to God’s in-breaking kingdom evidenced in the formation of Spirit-filled communities who follow Jesus (not Caesar, not religious leaders, and not themselves) as their Lord.
Of the two books Camp does a much better job of appropriating these observations for popular consumption. By discussing these topics under the rubric of discipleship Camp delineates how pursuing God’s kingdom as a radical alternative to worldly common sense makes a difference in worship, baptism, prayer, communion and evangelism. It is seldom seen among conservative evangelicals how the agenda of the political right runs counter to our highest ideals as Christians, namely the worship of the One true God. Camp’s words poignantly reveal the conflict in quoting conservative political journalist George Will: “Will’s central thesis – a forthrightly idolatrous claim – is of great concern: ‘A central purpose of America’s political arrangements,’ Will claims, ‘is the subordination of religion to the political order, meaning the primacy of democracy.’” Although this chapter questionably marries this kind of analysis with the necessity of pacifism, it remains a pungent indictment of moral majority/religious right Christians. Camp’s insights on communion, table fellowship, the sharing of wealth and Jubilee theology is foreign to (and devastating for) the piously self-indulgent evangelicalism to which I belong. The opening quote from Albert Camus in Camp’s chapter on evangelism summarizes the sentiment of both books: “The world of today needs Christians who remain Christians.”
The derivative question of how Christians should think about war and violence is an important one, and these books offer substantial challenges to those who uncritically accept the necessity of participating in war, even among Christians. What fails to emerge from the criticism, however, is a comprehensive picture of how governments should conduct themselves in light of the sin that governs all individual human conduct. The “let the Gentiles do it” sort of attitude which dominates both works successfully avoids a theonomic solution to the problem, but never seriously grapples with the various ways in which loving one’s neighbor seems to entail promoting specific public policies. The question of how Christians should evaluate the merits of particular governments, as well as the degree to which they are carrying out their God-given function are left unanswered. Related to this weakness is the fact that both books fail to give an account of how Christian ethics can hold the nations of this world universally culpable and yet only be applicable for the community of faith.
Shining brightly through these sorts of theoretical weaknesses, though, is a breathtakingly Biblical view of the Church and its role in the world. Its time for the leaders of the evangelical world to wake up to the fact that the problems we commonly face in the church – division, moral decline, the moral failure of church leaders etc. – has less to do with to do with doctrinal aberrations than with our fundamental failure to follow Jesus. Consider the words of Yoder (quoted in the opening of Camp’s book):
Jesus was not just a moralist whose teachings had some political implications; he was not primarily a teacher of spirituality whose public ministry unfortunately was seen in a political light; he was not just a sacrificial lamb preparing for his immolation, or a God-Man whose divine status calls us to disregard his humanity. Jesus was, in his divinely mandated prophethood, priesthood and kingship, the bearer of a new possibility for human, social, and therefore political relationships. His baptism is the inauguration and his cross is the culmination of that new regime in which his disciples are called to share. Hearers or readers may choose to consider that kingdom as not real, or not relevant, or not possible, or not inviting; but . . . no such slicing can avoid his call to an ethic marked by the cross, a cross identified as the punishment of a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Here's a nude Maddy and a naked Sameer (using the word "naked" in reference to a girl seems less dignified, for some reason). Fortunately their naughty bits are largely hidden, but as you can see, one can't hide Sam's enormous pectorals. Unfortunately he's in desperate need of a haircut - a mullet is crouching at the door, and its desire is for Sam, but he must master it!
You may have read a previous post mentioning my son Raj and the colorful palatte of odours which reside in the underside of his chin. He's probably the jolliest of us all, largely because his every whim is constantly attended by his servile parents (mostly his mother). Notice the huge cranium. That's mine. Notice the receding hairline - not mine. We suspect it may belong to Bruce Willis, but we can't quite figure out the mechanics of how that could be possible.
That concludes the obligatory, "Don't stop checking this page" entry - hopefully some book reviews will be coming soon!
Monday, August 08, 2005
I'll not make a habit of simply posting links on this page, but I thought this one might be appropriate in light of my previous post. Given the war-mongering among many Reformed spokesman (exemplifed in the controversy over "the New Perspective") its refreshing to see one of their own give a more gracious character to the tradition. John Frame gives a penetrating analysis of how evangelicalism descended into the ghettos of tribal in-fighting. If you've got a few minutes, and especially if you're of the Reformed persuasion, do yourself a favor and check this out.
Friday, August 05, 2005
Leon Morris Falls Prey to the New Perspective Before E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn or N.T. Wright Ever Get Around To Writing About It
Every bit as reliable and explosive as the hot gases which propel the waters of Old Faithful was the release of hot air by Reformed gatekeepers in response to N.T. Wright’s views of justification and imputation. Particularly at issue for many is 1) Wright’s insistence that the only proper notion of our present justification is one that depends upon a Jewish framework wherein God pronounces a final future judgment vindicating believers and judging their enemies and 2) Wright’s criticism of Reformed formulations of imputation as overblown and unnecessarily cumbersome (“a legal fiction”).
While I tend to disagree with Wright’s category distinction between (and preference of) “ecclesiology” over against “soteriology”, I found the clamor among Reformed folks over these two ideas listed above to be somewhat puzzling. Recently a good friend keenly pointed out a few passages in a popular Reformed volume on soteriology that furthered my befuddlement: Leon Morris' The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.
Concerning justification, he says:
When we turn to those passages where the verb “to justify” occurs, there can be no doubt that the meaning is to declare righteous rather than to make righteous. Thus we find a direction that the judges “shall justify the righteous and condemn the wicked” (Dt. 25:1). The forensic background is unmistakable and the verb can only mean “to declare righteous” or “to acquit” (pg. 259).
Among Jews there could be no justification until the day of judgment (for as long as ever a man lived it was always possible for him to sin and fall away from his momentary right standing). That justification has such a future aspect is recognized (cf. Gal. 5:5). But while this is not overlooked, it does not receive the emphasis in the Christian view. Rather the glorious truth insisted upon by St. Paul is that justification is a present experience . . . Justification is both present and future, but it is the present aspect which receives emphasis in the New Testament (pg. 283).”
Further down the same page he says:
The continuity with the Jewish usage is to be discerned in a number of passages. Thus Jesus said “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Mt. 12:36f.). The idea is clearly that of an assize such as the Jews conceived of at the day of judgment,, and the opposition of καταδικασθηση to δικαιωθηση seems to put the matter beyond doubt. So it is in Acts 13:39 and Romans 3:4.
Compare this with Wright’s statement in his article, “The Shape of Justification”:
Justification in the present is based on God's past accomplishment in Christ, and anticipates the future verdict. This present justification has exactly the same pattern.
(a) God vindicates in the present, in advance of the last day, all those who believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord (Rom. 3.21-31; 4.13-25; 10.9-13). The law-court language indicates what is meant. 'Justification' itself is not God's act of changing the heart or character of the person; that is what Paul means by the 'call', which comes through the word and the Spirit. 'Justification' has a specific, and narrower, reference: it is God's declaration that the person is now in the right, which confers on them the status 'righteous'. (We may note that, since 'righteous' here, within the law-court metaphor, refers to 'status', not 'character', we correctly say that God's declaration makes the person 'righteous', i.e. in good standing.)
(b) This present declaration constitutes all believers as the single people, the one family, promised to Abraham (Gal. 2.14 - 3.29; Rom. 3.27 - 4.17), the people whose sins have been dealt with as part of the fulfilled promise of covenant renewal (Jer. 31.31-34). Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together.
(c) The event in the present which corresponds to Jesus' death and resurrection in the past, and the resurrection of all believers in the future, is baptism into Christ (Gal. 3.26-9; Rom. 6.2-11). Baptism is not, as some have supposed, a 'work' which one 'performs' to earn God's favour. It is, for Paul, the sacrament of God's free grace. Paul can speak of those who have believed and been baptised as already 'saved', albeit 'in hope' (Rom. 8.24).
Among Wright’s critics are those that fear his use of justification as a future category somehow denigrates Christian assurance. Some have even taken him to be denying that there is even such a thing as a present justification. But in light of the quote above, not only are these criticisms absurd, the position they imply (namely that justification is entirely a singular event at the point of conversion) seems to shoot past the accepted Reformed view as well (at least insofar as represented by Morris). Both the declaratory nature of justification (the fact that it speaks to a status before God) and the future aspects of it (the fact that its based on a Jewish eschatological rubric) are affirmed by both men.
What of imputation? Wright ignited a conflagration of epic proportions in the Reformed world by saying that their doctrine of imputation amounted to a “legal fiction.” In other words, he denies that justification means that God says sinners are righteous even though He knows they really aren't. Instead Wright affirms that by justification God delcares that they are indeed righteous, because their faith in Christ "rights" them in relationship to God. Cartoons of Wright sporting a papal party hat soon began appearing in Presbyterian restrooms throughout the nation. Bold faced, underlined and italicized accusations of “works salvation!” were broadcast all over the internet (try doing a Google search for “N.T. Wright”). The smug and savvy who have conducted their Google searches (and therefore have done the hard work of finding out what the Bible actually says), carefully explained to us the difference between imputed and imparted righteousness.
But listen to Morris again:
When we have grasped the fact that the righteous are those accepted by God, some of the controversy concerning imputed and imparted righteousness seem beside the point. What difference does it make whether we impute or impart a status? Denney has well said on this matter: “the distinction of imputed and infused righteousness is unreal. The man who believes in Christ the propitiation – who stakes his whole being on sin-bearing love as the last reality in the universe – is not fictitiously regarded as right with God; he actually is right with God and God treats him as such. He is in the right attitude to God the Redeemer, the attitude which has the promise and potency of all rightness or righteousness in it, and it only introduces intellectual and moral confusion to make artificial distinctions at this point.” Those who come relying trustfully on the work of Christ for their acceptance with God are accepted as righteous, and if we bear in mind the essentially forensic nature of the term “righteous” there seems little need to dwell unduly on imparted or imputed righteousness. By the same token it may be possible to cavil at Denney’s inclusion of a reference to the “promise and potency of all rightness or righteousness”, for men are justified on Paul’s view not on account of any merit of their own, potential or actual, but only on account of Christ’s work and of their faith (pg. 271-272).
We come now to the question of imputation which has seemed to very many to be a necessary corollary of the forensic view. Traditional Protestantism has made much of the doctrine of imputed righteousness and has given it precision by saying that the merits of Christ are imputed to believers. Thus Calvin can say “the Son of God, though spotlessly pure, took upon him the disgrace and ignominy of our iniquities, and in return clothed us with his purity.” But in modern times this position has been strenuously opposed, and for example N.H. Snaith maintains that, if we hold to imputed righteousness “we have not emancipated ourselves from that very doctrine which Paul spent most of his life combating – namely that salvation is by righteousness”: and he goes on to say: “the fact of the matter is that God does not require righteousness at all, in any shape or shadow, as a condition of salvation. He requires faith.” It is very difficult to substantiate either extreme from Scripture . . . In view of plain statements like these [in Romans 4:5, 23] it seems impossible to hold that Paul found no place for the imputation of righteousness to believers. On the other hand, he never says in so many words that the righteousness of Christ was imputed to believers, and it may fairly be doubted whether he had this in mind in his treatment of justification, although it may be held to be a corollary from his doctrine of identification of the believer with Christ (pg. 281-282).
It’s therefore ironic to me that many Reformed people who so readily give their “solid gold” endorsement for The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross have also joined the mob’s thirst for the blood of “New Perspective" sympathizers. This isn’t to say, of course, that either Leon Morris or N.T. Wright are necessarily correct in their assessments of justification or imputation. Nor is it to say that they don’t have profound areas of disagreement with one another. It certainly isn’t a blanket endorsement of the New Perspective on Paul. Let Scripture be the final judge and arbiter of these matters. But it IS to say that many times “the gatekeepers” are more interested in protecting their party lines than being faithful to the biblical witness, to the shame of their forefathers.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Also, my youngest son currently smells like someone emptied a can of sharp cheddar easy cheese into a tub of banana yogurt under a heat lamp. It actually hurts my face to hold him. It's not his fault, of course -- but the kind of bacteria infants collect in a short amount of time defies probability calculus.
Anyhoo, here's that list . . .
- Mere Discipleship by Lee C. Camp (Christian living)
- Overcoming the World: Grace to Win The Daily Battle by Joel R. Beeke (Christian Living)
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Novel)
- Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper (Christian Living)
- Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (Novel)
- Going Public with the Gospel by Lon Allison and Mark Anderson (Christian Living)
- Foolishness to the Greeks by Leslie Newbigin (Worldview)
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Novel)
- The Secret of Self control by Richard Ganz (Counseling)
- Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World by Paul Harris and Doug Schaupp (Worldview)
- The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Novel)
- Heaven is Not My Home: Living in the Now of Gods Creation by Paul Marshall (Christian Living)
- Engaging Gods World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning and Living by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. (Worldview)
- Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov (Novel)
- God is Not: Religious, Nice, One of Us, an American, a Capitalist by D. Brent Laytham (Worldview)
- The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton (Novel)
- Whats So Amazing About Grace? By Philip Yancey (Christian Living)
- Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch (Christian Living)
- The Stranger by Albert Camus (Novel)
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Monday, August 01, 2005
This privatized perspective on religious duty (which attempts to circumvent every communal obligation placed upon the Christian) is rooted in one of evangelicalism's most foundational principles - personal piety. Evangelicals invented the "devotion" - fastidious prayer, meditation, personal Bible study and memorization and the like. We commonly emphasize the need of every individual to be personally confronted with God's call upon them, and we measure the validity of a person's induction into our community by their stories of personal renewal (we call it a "testimony"). Beyond the event of conversion we continue to prescribe the personal piety of "devotions" and provide "accountability" strictly in this sphere of religious activity. And of course this is all well and good.
But the ugly bastard stepchild of evangelicalism's contribution to Christianity is a concept of personal piety that excuses oneself from public moral responsibility. For all of the raging against postmodernism among the ranks of theological conservatives (among which I happily place myself) it's ironic that passages like these in Ephesians get so lustily user-defined. Peace? An inner quality? Is there a more extreme example of reader-response than that? What sort of intelligible Jew viewed the the coming kingdom of God as primarily an inner quality? What sort of bizarre hermeneutical hoop-jumping can make the deeply national and politcial visions of Isaiah, exemplified in the Messianic "prince of peace" of "whose government there shall be no end", merely an "attitude"? If Paul is even mildly serious about the division of Jew and Gentile having been broken down in Eph. 2, and about the new humanity this constitutes in Eph. 4 (both of which are clear echoes of the Old Testament hope for God's universal rule over all the nations of the earth) than this hyper-privatized interpretation is unmasked and exposed for what it is: the spirit of this age and a product of ideologies that hail from lands foreign to the Bible.
Personal piety is well and good, but the Church described by the Ephesian epistle is more than an assemblage of spiritually enlightened individuals - it is a commonwealth consisting of all nations, both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:12-16), the new humanity (Eph. 4:24ff.) where Jesus is proclaiming His victory over sin and death as He sits enthroned above all earthly and demonic rulers (1:20-23). And because that's what the Church is, a glorious outpost of God's coming kingdom planted in the present, the piety God desires is a PUBLIC piety - not in the sense of Pharasaical self-congratulation, but in the deeply impassioned purpose of not only proclaiming who Jesus is, but demonstrating through our communal lives that He really is at God's "right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come." Perhaps this is why the early church didn't relegate moral instruction to "devotions" in a manifestly cloistered religious sphere of conversation. Disclosure of personal finances, discussions of sexual ethics, detailed codes for family living and even practices of communal ostracism were all normal functions of church life. If Christians don't belong to that sort of community, a community of public piety, to what community do we belong? Perhaps the feeling of "inner peace" which comes to the exclusion of the communal practices outlined in Eph. 4:1-3 is less concerned with truth than it appears, and is in reality the most dangerous kind of fiction.