Tuesday, November 27, 2007

evangelical declaration against torture...

Here is a new article from Christianity Today's Books and Culture which further describes and clarifies the importance of Christians declaring their opposition to the use of torture under any circumstances. And below is an excerpt:

"What really matters is whether evangelical Christians who have committed themselves to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and have submitted their lives to the authority of Scripture will accept the moral legitimacy of our government strapping anyone made in God's image upside down on boards, putting cloth over their mouths, and pouring water down their throats and up their noses with the intention of simulating asphyxiation. Or, perhaps, sticking a knife in a prisoner's thigh, inducing hypothermia, employing sexual humiliation, beating people within an inch of their lives, or threatening them with attack dogs. The ultimate question is whether evangelical Christians have the capacity to say no to such violations of human dignity precisely because we affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord of all."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

wrap up of my AAR experience...

Time for a final post about my AAR experience. So, here's what I did on Sunday and Monday:

Sunday started off with my arriving a bit late to the section dedicated to the thought of Charles Taylor. Naturally, it was packed, and so, after standing for a while in the back where I could barely hear (it didn't help that the mic wasn't loud enough - you'd think they would double check things like that beforehand), I decided to leave.

After lunch, I went to a panel put on by the Society of Christian Philosophers, discussing Stephen Davis' new book, "Christian Philosophical Theology." Having read one of Davis' books for class, I was looking forward to hearing him speak, and he came across as extremely genuine and fair-minded. Not only was he able to respond quite effectively to the criticisms of the panel, he also seemed to exhibit a great deal of humility, something which - lets face it - is not a posture to which most academics are naturally prone. (Having said that, however, I would like to point out that several of the speakers I heard at the AAR conference seemed quite humble and that was quite refreshing to see...)

The discussion among the panel brought to light another issue, one that appears to be extending throughout academic theology as a whole; namely, the issue of intellectual bias vs. religious adherence. In other words, it seems that one party would like all religious study to be undertaken in an environment free of sectarian bias, and another wishes to do theology, philosophy, etc. within the confines of their particular faith tradition. This clash of approaches could most clearly be seen in the interaction between Christine Helmer (a professor of theology at Northwestern University) and William Lane Craig (a Christian philosopher and apologist who is well known for his debates with atheists).

Helmer seemed defensive from the get-go, and criticized the SCP not only for its lack of diversity (she stated that they "have an image problem") but for their perceived unwillingness to approach philosophy and theology from a genuinely objective viewpoint. Although Helmer argued rather strongly that dialogue is necessary between disciplines - a quite valid point - her rather defensive posture seemed rather off-putting and did not fit very well with her own language of dialogue. I was also confused by her proposal, inasmuch as I cannot see how anyone, theologian, philosopher, or otherwise, can truly shed their biases and approach a discussion with complete objectivity. Perhaps this is not what Helmer meant, but the impression she gave was that her way of doing things was more honest than her dialogue partners, and given that this was her first time meeting all of them except Davis, I'm not sure it was the best approach.

Of course, William Lane Craig, as was evident in this session, can be quite abrasive as well - perhaps in part due to his particularly rigorous brand of analytical logic, which does not lend itself well to camaraderie. I wonder if his many years of debating have left Craig with the logical attack as his primary form of communication? At any rate, I cannot fault him for his personality, or for his conviction, even if I didn't agree with all of his points. I do think that there may be a tendency among staunch evangelical conservatives like Craig to see "the defense of the faith" as the reason for all intellectual endeavors, and this mindset seems to me somewhat fear-based and may indeed lead to the sort of unwilling behavior Helmer indicated. But I could not be certain of this simply from one panel discussion.

At any rate, it appeared again to be a case of people talking past each other, both thinking that their approach is obviously the best and not stopping long enough to consider whether the other might have some merit. While I am not certain of this, I got the impression that this divide exists across the academic spectrum, and may even have some influence on the recent decision to split apart the AAR and the SBL. When one side believes that the unbiased study of religion is the primary goal, and the other believes that the sincere study of the Judeo-Christian faith is the primary goal, there is bound to be conflict. I cannot imagine that meeting at a conference is the best way to begin solving this problem, although there is certainly a place for that. Indeed, it needs to be dealt with on a much broader scale, and with more compassion and less hubris on both sides. End of rant. :-)

Anyway, to wrap up:

Later on Sunday afternoon, I attended a very good lecture given by N.T. Wright entitled "God in Public." His primary point was that the enlightenment dualism that separates discussion of God from the public sphere is no longer a valid option, and the Church must take seriously the biblical witness to God in public, and find new ways for the full message of the Gospel to be heard again, because the Gospel is a common good that we, as Christians, should seek to share with all the world, and with their help, not forcing it upon them. To quote Wright: "The Church must get on with the works of justice, beauty, and healing that the systems [of the world] know they should do, but can't figure out how to do. We must collaborate without compromise, and critique without dualism."

I will perhaps write a separate post on this later... as well as a post on the lecture given by Charles Taylor, who gave a plenary speech on Sunday night entitled "Religious Mobilizations."

Monday... well, Monday didn't quite turn out the way I had hoped. I slept in instead of going to a Fuller Seminary breakfast with the guys (which, as it turned out, cost $15! Although meeting Richard Mouw would have been nice...) and got ready to go to the San Diego Zoo, which is something I had been looking forward to. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my previous post, I got a slight misdirection from the hotel staff and ended up missing my bus while waiting for a transit train. So, instead of getting to the zoo around 10:30, I didn't get there until after 12:00. After rushing through the zoo for about an hour trying to see as much as possible, I was getting really worn out (still carrying my laptop bag with me!), and I realized I was going to miss the 2:00 p.m. session I had hoped to attend, so I roamed around the zoo a bit longer, but by this time I wasn't really as excited. I finally left the zoo around 2:30, and it took me over an hour to get to the convention center via the bus and trolley. I am certainly thankful for public transit, but it was far from efficient this day...

So, anyway, after getting back to the conference, I went to an interesting combination session that featured proponents of Radical Orthodoxy and Process Theology in conversation with each other. One of the highlights of that session was getting to hear John Milbank speak - he is an exceedingly brilliant fellow, and that's all I have to say about that. But it was a bit odd watching as the two groups tried to promote their similarities and downplay their very obvious differences - the biggest one being divergent views on the passability of God. Still, I have to say that the genuine attempt at dialogue was a refreshing example of what some people in the other sessions I attended seemed to desire but were unable to achieve. It may not have been fully successful, but I thought it was a worthwhile attempt.

And, that was it... I was totally wiped out from the weekend, so I went back to the hotel after dinner and slept just long enough to be rudely awoken at 5:00 a.m. in order to catch my plane back to Seattle. All in all, a worthwhile experience, a fun - and sometimes frustrating - trip, and maybe, just maybe, a possible glimpse into my future... if I am ever blessed to be a presenter at such an event. Time will tell...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

2nd AAR post... sort of...

Well, it's Monday, and the conference is over for me, I fly back to Seattle in the morning. It's been fun, and very enlightening and educational, but honestly, I'm too tired right now to think about it... today I went to the San Diego Zoo, which would have been fine except that getting there proved to be quite a challenge - let's just say that when you're in an unfamiliar city and you don't know the transit system, and you get incorrect information... well, it doesn't work out too well. Anyway, I wasted a couple hours traveling through San Diego on buses, and waiting for trolleys. But, that's the way it goes sometimes. I'll post more about the actual conference when I get back to Seattle. But, all in all, it was a great experience, and I had a pretty good time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

1st blog from AAR in San Diego...

Update of AAR activities so far:

I arrived in San Diego Friday evening and grabbed a shuttle over to the hotel where I'm staying with three other students
(Todd, Phil, and Josh) from Fuller NW. At the King’s Inn, I found out that my request for a room on the 2nd floor “away from the noise” had paid off: The room where Todd and I are staying is quite a bit nicer than the other room -– a difference I am attributing to the hunch that our room is in a newer addition/upgrade to the hotel. Score!

Saturday: So, here's the short version of the conference -- TONS of lectures by various scholars, both in the convention center and in the surrounding hotels. This means LOTS of walking –- which isn’t so bad, except that I’m carrying my laptop bag with me everywhere, so by the end of this trip, I’m sure my shoulders will feel like jelly-filled donuts... and speaking of donuts... :-) Actually... waffles! The hotel has a great little breakfast joint, called the “Waffle Spot” (hey, the name doesn’t matter if the food’s good). Good stuff, even if it is greasy breakfast food.

Anyway, Saturday... I actually attended several lectures, but one really stood out, IMO. It was a paper given by Brian Robinette from St. Louis University in the Christian Systematic Theology morning session. Brian’s paper, “Transfiguring the Victim,” examined the thought of Jon Sobrino, who, according to Robinette, makes use of a dialectic approach in describing the duality of the victim/victimizer relationship. He points out what seems to be a circular appropriation of violence, whereby the victims of violence often become victimizers themselves in response to the violence they have experienced. In this way, Sobrino makes it clear that we are all in some sense both the victim and the victimizer.

Robinette adds to the thought of Rene Girard, who, in his work, points out that humanity has always apparently needed a “scapegoat” of sorts, an other who can take the brunt of a group’s guilt, fear, or hatred, and becomes the victim of that group in order that the group itself might remain cohesive. But in Girard’s estimation, Christ is the ultimate victim, because Christ is not only crucified by a collective group made up of various sub-groups (religious leaders, political leaders, the crowd), but in Christian theology Christ is also understood to be a victim of humanity’s sin – we are all responsible, in a sense, for Christ’s death. Christ is therefore the archetypal scapegoat. But if Christ is a victim, then God is also a victim of our sin, which leads to Robinette’s statement that God is a God of victims – and that includes everyone, including the ultimate victim, Jesus Christ.

Robinette adds to these ideas the conception of the atonement known as Christus Victor, in which the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ is seen as a final decisive victory of God over the forces of the devil, sin, and death. Christus Victor is the best way, Robinette claims, to assist Christians in understanding both the realization that everyone of us is both victim and victimizer, and the view that the ultimate forgiveness was given by the ultimate victim (Christ) in order to adequately respond to sin and violence. This model can assist us more fully in responding to the sin we find in our world, by reminding us of our own culpability and the forgiveness which God offers to both victim and victimizer. As recipients of that forgiveness, we should see others with new eyes – eyes of hope that both victims and victimizers might be redeemed through the forgiveness offered in Christ.

Other highlights from Saturday:

Attended lectures by S. Mark Heim, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and others, on some of the issues surrounding the critique of the traditional views of the atonement as too focused on violence, and possible new approaches to the atonement. I didn’t agree with everything they said, but it was thought-provoking.

Met briefly with Dr. Kevin Hart about the Ph.D program at the University of Virginia. It sounds like a great school, from what I’ve heard so far... although it’s quite tough to get into! (and ending my sentences with prepositions probably isn’t a good start... hehe!) Dr. Hart was very gracious, and as silly as it sounds, I was actually a bit intimidated by his British accent – there’s something about a British scholar that just seems to say: I’m much more intelligent, cultured, and well-regarded than any American! I dunno, maybe I’m just projecting my own insecurities.

Finally, Sat. evening I went to an Evangelical Philosophical Society meeting panel discussion. It was a response to Dale Allison’s book, “Resurrecting Jesus,” which is, obviously, a new book about the historical veracity of the resurrection of Christ. Allison, who is a Christian and believes in the resurrection, responded to critiques from Stephen Davis, William Lane Craig, and Gary Habermas. It was a case of evidentiary philosophers and a skeptical historian speaking past each other in terms of methodology, but all agreeing that faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a necessity. In other words, although a lot of interesting points were made, I felt that a lot of the critiques were all smoke and no fire. But, I did learn quite a bit, and enjoyed the lively discussion.

Oh, and in the lobby of the Marriott hotel we saw John Schneider (of Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville fame) getting a shoe shine. That was slightly odd. I don't think he was there for the conference. :-)

Ok, that’s it for now... I’ll post about Sunday and Monday soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

off to San Diego and AAR...

I will be at the American Academy of Religion Annual Conference in San Diego this weekend -- and I'll try to either blog from the event or soon afterward with whatever nuggets of wisdom I glean from 3 full days of lectures and panel discussions by many of the world's greatest theologians and professors of religion. I'm also hoping to visit the San Diego zoo while I'm there... Should be a fun time! More to come...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

N.T. Wright on the resurrection of Jesus...

"Grasping the nettle -- proposing, as a historical statement, that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty because his body had been transformed into a new mode of physicality -- will of course evoke howls of protest from those for whom the closed world of Enlightenment theory renders any such thing impossible from the start. But... The lines of historical enquiry point relentlessly inward to the first day of the week after Jesus' crucifixion. Once you allow that something remarkable happened to his body that morning, all the other data fall into place with astonishing ease. Once you insist that nothing so outlandish happened, you are driven to ever more complex and fantastic hypotheses to explain the data...

Of course, the historian... cannot compel anyone to assent to anything. The historian can take the argument as far as I have taken it, leaving it clear what the options are: either solve the historical puzzle by agreeing that Jesus' body was transformed into a new sort of life, or leave it in essence unsolved by coming up with flights of fancy, which themselves create far more problems.

But at this point the theologian or philosopher... must step in and ask: do we in fact have good grounds for ruling the straightforward solution out of court a priori? The answer to that will depend, of course, on your worldview: on what you believe about God, the world, yourself, and a host of other things. The question is, whether you are prepared to allow that certain worldviews, including the many skeptical ones that render resurrection out of the question, could and perhaps should be challenged, or whether they are set in stone forever."

(from The Meaning Of Jesus: Two Visions)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Christian response to the "war on terror"?

Recently, I got into a bit of an email "debate" with a friend over my disapproval of certain American security techniques (including the practice of rendition) related to the war on terror. My friend responded that these measures are needed to protect America from the threat of another terrorist attack. Since we are both Christians, I responded this way:

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think the reasoning of (apparently) a majority of American Christians is somewhat backward: It seems that the Gospel has taken a back seat to fear. Clearly, the fear of terrorism is a primary motivator in our nations current security policies.

I am certainly not saying that safety isn't important. And I don't think we should abandon attempts to protect ourselves from the terrorists who threaten us. But it seems fairly obvious to me that an over-arching environment of fear leads to actions like the imprisonment and torture of innocent people, and I think as Christians, we are always obligated to stand against torture and injustice, no matter what. But it appears that our president (who also calls himself a Christian) has a different agenda, and while I understand the reasoning, I just don't think that's what Christ wants. It certainly isn't what Christ taught.

To be honest, I am far less concerned with America's comfort and safety than I am with seeking to follow Christ. That doesn't mean I would never defend my nation. I just think that national identity must always remain secondary to living as a disciple of Jesus. That is simply biblical. And a great deal of what the U.S. is currently doing in the "war on terror" strikes me as the opposite of following Christ. Now, I don't expect the government or military to be primarily concerned with Christian ethics. But I do expect Christians to take them seriously... and when it seems that many American Christians are content with the status quo, simply because our president claims to be a Christian... well, I have a problem with that.

I do agree that many aspects of the so-called "Islamo-fascism" are alarming. But I don't think that gives us reason to revise how Christ calls us to live. I might also add that simply appealing to warfare in the Bible is NOT a good reason to say that what our country is doing is OK.

This is the root of the difficulty: How do we, as Christians, balance defending/protecting ourselves, and others, from those enemies who are out to destroy us, while continuing to love those same enemies as Christ did? What does that look like? I'm not sure, but I don't think the way our government responds should be our example.

So, it's a complicated issue, to say the least. I don't think that the current U.S. strategy is really working, and even if it were, it certainly isn't a proper Christian response. And as a Christian, my main concern should be following Jesus and responding the way he would, no matter how many racists, murderers, or terrorists I may encounter. Again, I'm not saying this is easy, or that I have it all figured out. But I do think that we should look for a better way, and not simply acquiesce out of fear for our "national security." That is not a proper Christian response to terror.