I’ve decided not to try to blog through Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace because I’d never make it; the book is in many ways over my head, so I’m reading it through just to get it done, with the intention of revisiting it soon in hopes that I’ll better grasp it. But I’ll offer a few thoughts here and there. Obviously one of the central themes of the book is “exclusion,” which Volf describes early on as refusing to accept other human beings as human beings. We see others precisely as other and treat them more as commodities than actual persons. He names a few ways in which we do this. Continue reading
Sorry it’s been so long! I’m in the middle of crazy season so I may not blog a whole, whole lot over the next bit, but I’ll be sure to get a couple things up a week at least. A while back I wrote “the gospel…” in my journal and then just started letting the words flow. Not saying this is the best way to do theology, but it can be fun (and at times helpful!). The only rule is that I promise not to edit or change anything, for better or worse. Here’s what I wrote next:
Jesus is the Messiah, our Savior and Lord, and in dying and being raised from the dead he has saved us from sin. Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, the culmination of God’s efforts in creation and Israel to build and then restore a world of peace, justice, and love. He is our King and we are his people, called out from among the nations as the peculiar people of a peculiar God, sent to declare his praises, preview his kingdom, and invite all people to join his family. We resist all that is hostile to God and out of line with his purposes as revealed in Jesus. We thus reject imperialism, individualism, secularism, rationalism, militarism, pragmatism, and consumerism, along with pride, anger, envy, lust, gluttony, sloth, and greed.
I’m not sure where I’d draw the line between what I’d call “the gospel” and what comes out of that. Actually, I’m not sure if such a line should be drawn at all.
It’s not that we set out to be counter-cultural for its own sake, though doing so may indeed be worthwhile. It’s just that we’ve been called as witnesses to a reality that simply is entirely counter to the culture. We are not anti-world, but we’ve been called to live into a vision of the world that is often opposite the world we see everyday. It’s not that we get kicks out of saying that what the world thinks is wrong; it’s just that what most of us often think actually is wrong. Examples? We can’t save our lives by seeking security from every risk; we can’t find lasting pleasure by seeking it directly; we aren’t acquitted simply because we choose not to see the evil effects of our way of life; our problems can’t be solved apart from the grace of God – that is, his stooping down to be present and active among us. We believe that apart from grace, redemption just won’t happen, no matter what we call it and how we try to get there. So be counter-cultural this weekend, not because it’s cool or because it makes people notice you, but because you really do believe in a vision of reality that is different from the dominant ideologies and assumptions of our time.
I was reflecting in Matthew 5.43-48 recently and I noticed a few things. In particular, I noticed some of Jesus’ assumptions about how to evaluate our behavior. I think if we used these as a grid we’d be well on our way to knowing what to do in most situations:
1. Our actions are to be based not on immediate benefit but future reward.
2. Our actions are to be different from people who aren’t followers of Jesus.
3. Our actions are to be modeled on God’s impartial love for those who don’t deserve it.
While this is true in general (and often affirmed in theory), let’s remember that in context Jesus is talking about loving our enemies – those who insult and degrade us, who attack us, who try to rip us off or take advantage of us. If our actions were to be based on immediate benefit, we’d rectify the situation as soon and as efficiently as possible. In short, we’d get them back; we’d seek revenge; we’d even the score. If our actions were to be like everyone else’s, we’d do the same. The whole world recognizes and practices a form of justice (or karma) in which those who attack us earn a counter-attack from us. And if our actions were based on anything except God’s impartial love, we would once again fight back – no one would blame us or think twice; in fact, revenge is considered the only respectable and even acceptable option much of the time. So when our response to attack is to fight back, we should examine ourselves in light of Jesus’ assumptions about our actions – Are we seeking future reward from God rather than immediate benefit? Are we doing anything different from what everyone else would do? Are we modeling our actions on the impartial love of God for people who deserve the opposite?
Think about how all of our relationships (from close to casual, both personal and communal) would look different if we lived this way. Of course we could offer many more examples, but the main thing in every situation is to keep in mind the three points mentioned above. Peace
Alternate Title: Don’t Call Him A Liberal!
I noticed something while reading Job a while back. I was reading chapter 31, where Job offers his final defense of his own righteousness. I’ve read it before, but I missed something.
Of those who are familiar with Job beyond the surface, many probably know about the “covenant with his eyes” he made not to look lustfully upon other women. Commendable, to say the least! He goes so far as to say, “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door, then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her.” I’m not really sure what all that means, and I am sure Mrs. Job wouldn’t appreciate being offered up in this way (even theoretically)! But one thing is certain: Job is clearly serious about sexual purity.
What I noticed this time, however, is that Job’s morality isn’t as one-dimensional as ours often is. We like to separate “moral” issues from “social” issues. As long as we stay in line with the former, we consider ourselves (and our leaders) to be doing well. But look at how Job continues. The bulk of the chapter speaks about what we would consider “social issues” – issues of justice for the poor. Take a look at Job 31.16-23!!
My point is that in defending himself, Job points to both sexual purity and his record of taking care of the poor. It reminds me of Amos 2.6-8, another place where disregard for the poor and sexual incontinence are seen as two sides of the coin called “sin” (one that elicits God’s wrath, no less).
Anyhow, I just thought we should be aware that when we talk about “moral issues” without regard to how the poor (and widows, orphans, immigrants, etc) are treated, we are speaking without the support of Scripture.
My friend Tyler recently posted on “messianic expectations” in the first century and it got me thinking of a description of what “messiah” means I’d put together for one of my leaders at Real Life. (Of course I’m describing the word through my Jesus-lens.) Here’s how I’d describe it:
“Messiah” (mashiach in Hebrew, christos in Greek) literally means “anointed one” and typically refers to prophets, priests, and especially kings. In Jesus’ day, many Jews hoped God would send a “messiah” – a kingly figure like David – to rescue Israel from her enemies, purify the Temple, and re-gather God’s people so that they might worship faithfully. They were looking for a new exodus with a new Moses – a deliverer to save them from oppression and lead them in the ways of God. They believed this Messiah’s victories would usher in a golden age of justice and peace. To call Jesus “Messiah” is to say that he is God’s appointed King who came to save the world (beginning with Israel) from sin and evil.
But he did so in a surprising way. For one thing, he didn’t mount an attack against the Romans; he staged a deeper confrontation with and defeat of Sin/Death itself. And for another, the coming of God’s golden age (or “kingdom”) didn’t happen all at once – Jesus the Messiah inaugurated this new world and called together a people to continue his work until a future day when he would bring it to full completion. The early Christians would never have made such ridiculous claims – crucified would-be messiahs were by definition failures – were it not for the fact that God raised him from the dead.
Whadd’ya think? Anything you expected to see but didn’t? Anything you didn’t expect to see but did? What would you have put differently?
Life Journal // 007
I receieved an email this morning from a Real-Lifer (and good friend) about a verse from today’s Life Journal reading: John 6.65 – He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” His comment was quick and to the point: “Doesn’t sound like free will to me!!!”
Of course “free will” is a complicated philosophical concept that we aren’t going to get into here, but I thought I’d share my answer for any other Real-Lifers (or otherwise) who had the same question.
This verse finds a parallel in 6.44 – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” This states the very same thing, this time substituting “draws” for “enables” (they’re synonymous and both fairly straightforward).
If we read these as detached philosophical or theological statements then they do certainly seem to argue against free will. But not if we read them in the context of the story John is telling about Jesus. Notice what Jesus later says in John 12.32:
And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to myself.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus being “lifted up” always refers to the cross; in John’s paradoxical theology, it is when Jesus is at his lowest that he is actually at his highest (or to use another John phrase, that he is “glorified”). So it is at the cross that all people are drawn to Jesus. The cross is the great “enabler” without which none of us could come to Jesus. But since in the cross God reached out to all of us through Jesus, we are now all faced with the decision of how to respond. So it is true that no one can come unless they are drawn/enabled by God to do so, but in the cross this very drawing/enabling has taken place. God has done his part and the rest is up to us (with his constant help, of course).