Wednesday, March 28, 2007

a little light reading...

Over the past couple weeks I've read the following books:

Philosophy and Theology (John Caputo)
Who's Afraid of Postmodernism? (James K. A. Smith)
Structuralism and Poststructuralism for Beginners (Donald Palmer)
Science, Faith and Society (Michael Polanyi)

(I also started reading Buber's "I and Thou" but got bored with it... I guess I'm just not able to grasp all that 'mystical' stuff right now...)

Anyway, I have found myself becoming more and more interested in philosophical theology, particularly as it relates to post-modernism. There's probably a lot that could be said about this, but I just want to make one point for now -- it seems that many of the ideas represented by post-modern thought provide a unique opportunity for theology to recapture some of the viability that it has "lost" over the last couple hundred years in the face of the enlightenment critique of religion.

The problem is that some post-modern philosophy has shown itself to lack the foundational principles necessary for open dialogue with other disciplines (e.g. the lack of scientific respectability that was most vividly critiqued by the Sokal hoax). So, a lot of "empirical" and "skeptical" thinkers have their doubts about post-modernism, and I can't say I really blame them. But I think theologians would be wise to try and navigate through all the twists and turns of post-modern thought in an endeavor to approach the issue of faith from a different angle... as most people now realize, a frontal assault upon either theism or atheism by the other, using pure reason, is bound to fail. So a new direction and/or a new vocabulary seems very good.

Of course, it also must be emphasized that many post-modern philosophers are far from being people of faith -- but sometimes the best discussions occur when people who disagree are able to learn from each other by talking openly and respectfully. I would really enjoy having some of those types of discussions. Do any of you have opinions on post-modern thought with regard to theology? Any books you think I should read? I'd love to get a dialogue going here...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

new music...

Here are a few new CDs that I've been enjoying recently, in case anyone's interested:

Low - Drums and Guns
Anberlin - Cities
Jesu - Conqueror
Calla - Strength in Numbers

In related news, apparently the music industry as we know it is dying a slow death... I say kill it. DIY and online are the way of the future. But then, I've always been a fan of the "indie" side of the industry...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

intellectually stimulating theology on the web...

I know the internet is a vast black hole of (mis)information on pretty much any topic (hehe), but if anyone is interested in checking out some great theological writing/discussion online, you can't go wrong starting with the "10 Propositions" series on the "Faith and Theology" blog.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

the OT and judgment...

Recently I wrote a paper for an Old Testament Theology class, taught by Pam Scalise. My chosen passage was Amos 9:7-8, where God tells Israel that, in fact, God has been responsible for the "exoduses" of other nations (it's vital that we understand the nationalistic undercurrent flowing through the OT) from their captivity as well. This got me thinking about the themes of redemption and judgment in the OT, and how to better understand the picture of God painted for us in Israel's story of deliverance, rebellion, and repentance.

God’s revelation must be recognized in both the history of Israel and of the world – indeed, in the history of all creation. This includes the history of other nations; in fact, the activity of every nation is directed toward God’s purposes. The role of every nation is also related to God’s covenant with Israel - even enemy attacks upon Israel are preordained by God. As Brevard Childs states: God is "revealing his righteous will and redemptive plan for Israel through the events of history…"

From God’s perspective, history is not ultimately determined by the winners, but by God’s promises. A quick review of Scripture shows us that God’s concern is for all the nations, and this means all humanity is somehow in relationship with God. Amos 9:7 reminds the people of Israel that they are not the only nation with whom God is concerned. God has delivered other nations as well. And God will deliver them again.

God’s judgment is not partial or based on a lack of awareness. God sees the "big picture" and responds accordingly. Even Babylon had the ability to do good, but chose evil, and that is why God judged them. It is inevitable that all people and all nations will eventually acknowledge God. But the final fate of each nation is somehow dependent upon what that process of acknowledgment entails.

Even though they are God’s "chosen people," if Israel refuses to acknowledge God, they are open to the same judgment as every other nation, and will receive it in due time. Israel mistakenly believed that being in covenant with God conferred some special status on them. But God’s aim is that all the nations might know God’s true character, and serve God as a result.

God’s decision to use the covenant with Israel as the means by which all nations would be blessed is not reflective of Israel’s worthiness, but of God’s sovereignty. Childs points out that throughout the OT there are images of God being glorified among the nations, often to Israel’s demise. Psalm 96 and 98, for example, proclaim God’s majesty and dominion over all the nations. Psalm 82 describes God’s judgment of all those who are unjust and idolatrous, including Israel.

God’s chastising of Israel through the actions of other nations was not only for Israel’s benefit, but also that other nations might realize God’s character. But many of these nations, all too eager to assault Israel, were likewise punished for their unwillingness to recognize God’s hand at work in Israel’s judgment. In this way, God is shown to be completely sovereign over all the nations, letting each mete out punishment for the sins of the other, and at the same time holding all accountable who are sinning against God.

So though Israel is God’s chosen people, they are not exempt from judgment. The only apparent difference is that, as a race, they will not be completely wiped out. This still leaves us with the difficult question: Is God playing favorites? Is it merely some deterministic aspect of our relationship to God that we are either chosen to barely survive, or doomed to be destroyed? Or does it reflect God’s mercy, as well as God’s justice, that all nations are treated equally, including Israel, with whom God made a covenant?

Perhaps one other thought is helpful here. If Israel, as a result of that covenant, is to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth, then Israel’s continuance is actually a blessing to the world, even today. As long as Israel exists, it means that God’s promises are sure. The fact that Israel still exists indicates God’s desire to bless all creation.

One of the most beautiful expressions of this promised blessing is found in Isaiah 2:1-5. God, through the prophet, describes a beautiful image: In God’s new Kingdom, all the nations will stream to the mountain where God’s temple is established, and there people from all the nations will worship God. Who are these people? They are the ones who have not surrendered to the nationalism or henotheism of the "sinful kingdoms" in which they may find themselves, and have passed through God’s judgment in confidence, as a result of their trust in God alone. It will be a time of peace, a testimony to God’s love and sovereignty over all the nations of the world. This is the hope of the OT, and it is the Christian hope as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I like to point out inconsistencies...

It's a gift :-) Ok, maybe not... Anyway, I thought this was ironic:

Iran's president and government are apparently quite upset by the portrayal of Persians as immoral and cruel in the movie "300." An AP story states: "State-run television has run several commentaries the past two days calling the film insulting and has brought on Iranian film directors to point out its historical inaccuracies."

Now, while I have no doubt the movie is not entirely historically accurate (what Hollywood film is?), keep in mind, this is the same country where, just a few months ago, the president held a conference dedicated to proving that the Jewish holocaust NEVER HAPPENED. And they're worried about historical inaccuracies in a movie? Wow.

Friday, March 9, 2007

on days like today...

...I have to remember this:

"...the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will prove in the long run to be stronger than all human incompetence and fear, and more forceful than all our foolishness, weakness, and cynicism." (Hans Kung)

This is hope. All other hopes spring from here, or they eventually wither.

Friday, March 2, 2007

retribution and grace: thoughts on capital punishment...

Here's an excerpt from a paper I recently wrote for my ethics class. If any of you are interested in reading the whole thing, let me know... one more crazy week of papers and finals and this quarter will be done!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer states that the Christian life must be founded upon Christ as the center of our existence. As Bonhoeffer points out, Jesus is somehow miraculously both the presence of God with us, and a fully human being who enters into our sinful nature but is not subsumed by it. In Christ, humanity is “crucified, dead and judged.” But this is not all: the resurrection is the calling forth of a new creation, a “new humanity” that is in Christ. Additionally, Christ, the “God-man,” is present with us now, though not in the same manner as when he walked our planet in an earthly body. Christ is now “in us” and we are his body. What does this mean for Christians? Bonhoeffer’s answer: wherever the Church is, there is Christ.

The life of the Christian does not simply reflect Christ; it is Christ living in us. Inversely, whatever Christ does, the “new humanity” that Christ called into being by his resurrection must be doing. And what does Christ do? Christ brings new life. Christ brings grace, love, and forgiveness. Retributive justice has already been taken care of on the cross. Christ has stood in our place, in “the centre, between… ‘I’ and God.” Humanity, says Bonhoeffer, “has the law, but cannot fulfill it… Christ as the centre means that he is the fulfillment of the law.” The body of Christ, the Church, exists as the new creation resulting from the fulfillment of the law.

How does Christ as the center of our existence change our response to the death penalty? It requires the development of an ethical hermeneutic that adheres to the new life created in Christ’s death and resurrection. Richard Hays centers the Christian ethic on three “focal images” that serve as imperatives for Christian life. They are Community, Cross, and New Creation. He succinctly states that “Jesus’ death on a cross is the paradigm for faithfulness to God in this world.” As such, our actions as Christians should not be given weight based upon their ability to produce a desired result, but by their “correspondence to Jesus’ example.” This ethic involves a community living in stark contrast to the world around them. Instead of demanding retribution, they forgive. Instead of holding onto power, they surrender it. The Christian community operates from a paradigm of grace.

Hays points out that the way of the cross is an overarching theme throughout the New Testament. In Mark, “the way of the cross is simply the way of obedience to the will of God, and discipleship requires following that way regardless of cost or consequences.” In Matthew, we are given a “hermeneutic of mercy.” On two different occasions, Jesus confronts the Pharisees with Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Hays believes mercy is key to understanding Matthew’s ethic. So we must ask, what is more ethical for the Christian, to sacrifice a criminal for the sake of the Law, or to show mercy by commuting a death sentence? As Hays points out, “Jesus practiced [non-violent enemy-love] to his own death, and the Gospel of Matthew presents this teaching as a commandment that is to be obeyed by Jesus’ disciples.”

In John’s Gospel the mandate is love, the kind of love Christ shows in self-sacrificial action. Jesus’ followers are to share that same kind of love with the world. The implications are clear: if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we must never fail to take seriously Jesus’ own rejection of violent retaliation and his command to love our neighbor and our enemy.

Likewise, for Paul, “Jesus’ death on the cross is an act of loving, self-sacrificial obedience that becomes paradigmatic for the obedience of all who are in Christ.” But, one might argue, we are not Christ! To this Bonhoeffer would quickly respond, “Yes, we are!” We are Christ’s body, and therefore capable of exhibiting the love of Christ. Yes, the passion of Christ is an entirely different kind of event. But it is an example to Christians, a symbol of what we are capable of when Christ lives in us, one that we too often neglect to take seriously.

Paul’s message in Romans is “the voluntary surrender of prerogatives for the sake of the other.” To re-phrase Paul's rhetorical question: “Jesus was willing to die for these people, and you aren’t even willing to commute their death sentences to life in prison without parole?”