Saturday, September 27, 2008

Evans on Kierkegaard and logical contradiction...

"One important property of the absolute paradox for Kierkegaard is that it must be unique; the incarnation must somehow qualify as the absurd. However, there is nothing unique about a logical contradiction and no principled way to say that one is 'more contradictory' or 'absurd' than any other.

Furthermore, it is hard to see how a logical contradiction could serve as the 'boundary' or 'limit' of reason as the incarnation is supposed to do. To recognize a 'square circle' as a formal contradiction one must have a fairly clear grasp of the concepts of 'square' and 'circle'. In one sense at least, therefore, such a concept falls within the competence of reason; if it did not, reason could not properly classify it as a logical contradiction. The point of the incarnation, according to Kierkegaard, is that it is a concept that reason cannot understand.

Human reason is baffled both by human nature and by God. It is further baffled by the conjunction of the two concepts, but not because reason has a clear understanding of either what it means to be human or what it means to be God. The incarnation may appear or seem to human reason to be a logical contradiction, but it is not known to be such, and the believer does not think it is a formal contradiction."

C. Stephen Evans - Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account

Thursday, September 25, 2008

human being and transcending...

"Our way of being in the world is best understood in terms of possible ways of being. We may share much in common with others, and we would not be who we are independently of our histories. Yet in some sense we seem also able to transcend or go beyond these boundaries. We are both fact and possibility Heidegger would say. Our being is something to be achieved; it is something to be gained or lost. In this sense we appear to be different from other beings in the universe. As beings of potentiality, beings on the way, we are always transcending boundaries, moving into new possibilities of being. We are temporal beings. We exist in the present involved in the heritage of what has been. But we also exist in the future which is coming towards us. Our being is such that in the present we remember the past and anticipate the future. We are becoming as individuals and as entangled in the history of humankind."

Eugene Long

Sunday, September 21, 2008

cleanliness is not next to godliness... :-)

In Luke 8:43-48 (also found in Matthew 9 and Mark 5) we read the story of a woman in a crowd, who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years and touched Jesus' cloak, hoping to be healed. In reading this passage as part of a devotional the other day, I saw something I had never noticed before: This story gives us a profound insight into Jesus' approach to the "unclean" in our midst. In Jewish culture, to be unclean meant that one was, at least for a time, unacceptable to God, and could not enter the temple to worship. Having any contact with one who was unclean would make you unclean as well. The woman must have known that touching Jesus would make him unclean - and that was a big risk to take. Yet she chose, in her desperation to find healing, to touch him anyway.

The implications here are, I think, truly life-changing. Previously, I had read about Jesus' response to the unclean -- how he ate with "sinners," how he touched lepers and healed them, etc. But I had seen all of that as taking place on Jesus' own terms -- HE was the one who decided to make contact with the unclean. But this story makes it clear that God's healing power and grace is available even when it seems that God is not initiating the contact, or even paying attention to us. In the mere fact of God becoming human, God is already choosing to make that healing available to all humanity. God's transformative power is not diminished by his coming into contact with our unclean world, and it won't be diminished by any of us.

I think sometimes we worry that if we come to Jesus just as we are, we will "taint" Jesus with our uncleanliness. We think that God will be angry with us for getting things all dirty and messy. So we either walk away feeling rejected, or we try to make ourselves as clean as possible, providing all sorts of reasons why we aren't dirty after all. I think, unfortunately, the church bears most of the blame for this attitude. The church has too often taught that there are some people who are worthy of entering into the community of worship, and some who are not. There is an underlying fear of making Jesus unclean. For many people, this fear keeps them from coming to Christ, because they have been fed the lie that God does not accept the unclean.

The opposite is true! Not only is Jesus NOT made unclean by the woman, he heals her and makes her clean! So approach, reach out, and touch Jesus, no matter how "unclean" you may be, and see what happens. It may not be what you expect, but if you are willing to risk "making Jesus unclean," you may find that something miraculous will happen.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

a basic theological notion that is often forgotten...

General revelation - that is, the type of knowledge we might gain regarding metaphysical or noumenal (to use Kant's term) aspects of reality using reason, science, etc - can never take us farther than the development of an abstract notion referring to the possible existence of some sort of reality or being which we would call "God." If that God is, in fact, the God revealed in Scripture (and ultimately, in Jesus Christ) then we can only know this through special revelation, which only comes to us from God through the gift of faith. At least, as far as we know, this is the only option. Even believing this is an act of faith. We cannot rely on historical, scientific, sociological, philosophical, or even theological research to bring about a genuine knowledge of God's essential reality and relationship to creation. This is something that only God can do; our part is merely to be open to that revelation when it comes, instead of closing ourselves off to special revelation due to the fact that it is not historically, scientifically, or otherwise verifiable. Whenever Christians forget this, they fall into a trap that ultimately leads to either fundamental self-contradiction or disbelief.

Friday, September 12, 2008

a glimpse into my political cynicism...

I don't post too often about political happenings, but here is an entry that I resonate with: it's really sad (though not surprising) to see that Christ has been hijacked for the agendas of both parties, and I'm really not looking forward to either candidate becoming president at this point. I don't want to be a do-nothing cynic, but I agree with Halden's post, it's really about changing your local community at this point; national politics is nothing more than a popularity contest to see who gets to steer the ship for a while.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

thoughts on the stability of God and Scripture...

Over at my pastor's blog, I posted a response to a discussion on what it means when doctrine changes. I am re-posting it here, slightly modified:

I agree with the statement "the only constant is change" from a philosophical perspective. I think of Heraclitus' words, "You cannot step into the same river twice..."

Of course, from a theological perspective, there is one true "constant": God. But, since none of us can grasp God's essence, we rely upon what we believe to be God's true revelation: Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture. So, in effect, this revelation becomes our "constant." (thinking of LOST, anyone? :-D)

Actually, Scripture becomes more of a constant than Jesus, because it is still tangible. Jesus is primarily known via the witness of Scripture. Sure, there are spiritual experiences, but those are usually not sufficient foundations for doctrine. And that's really what we're dealing with here, right? What is the true Christian doctrine? And do we know it?

So, the "unchangeable" God (however you define unchangeable) is known to us primarily third-hand: God -> Jesus -> Bible. Of course, we believe the Spirit of God flows through all this, so God is known "first-hand" by faith, but if we're talking about tangible knowledge, i.e. knowledge that we can actually see, Scripture is the most obvious choice.

So, it seems to me that what most people mean when they ask "Does God change?" is really something like: "What is unchangeable about the Bible?" The assumption is that if we can figure that out, we'll know what is unchangeable about God. But is this really a fair assumption?

What if we found out (as we already have) that statements in the Bible are not always literally true? Does that mean that our faith is no longer solid? I think most Christians would say, clearly, no. What if all the available evidence someday suggests that the Bible is completely false (this seems unlikely)? Does that mean God, or God's Word, has changed? Do we have to cling rigidly to inerrancy in order to save the Bible from corruption? I don't think so. Because God is not dependent upon the Bible, the Bible is dependent upon God.

It seems to me that the Bible gives us an outline of God's Truth, and we humans have, over the centuries, filled in the gaps, with various answers. Some of those have resonated with the Christian faith as a whole and have remained with us, some have not. (Obviously, if we got rid of Jesus' divinity, Christianity would be rather vapid.) But if our faith in God is dependent upon the complete stability of the Bible, we will be disappointed, because the Bible will always be, to some degree, a reflection of the people who are interpreting it. It's just unavoidable.

This doesn't mean that we should just give up and announce that "everything is relative" or whatever. It means, rather, that we must decide where we will stand, based upon what seems the most true to us and the whole Church, and live there, relying upon God's justice and mercy to ultimately make everything right in the long run. It means that we live with both grace and conviction. God's Word (properly understood) and the gift of faith - both being extensions of God, are NOT changeable, but everything finite is, and since we are finite humans, we will have to live with the tension of both certainty and uncertainty at work in our lives.

Christians have only two covenants to work with: God's covenant with Israel, and the new covenant in Jesus Christ. So, we can't try to appeal to some "newer" covenant. Everything we believe has to be guided by the new covenant with Christ. So, what does that covenant look like? What are Jesus' main themes? What was his purpose? What did he tell his followers to do?

While we may never know true stability, answering those questions will guide us as we negotiate this ever-changing world. If we believe that, we won't need to fear change, because we are trusting not in our own stability, or even the stability of Scripture, but in the stability of God.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

what it means to speak truthfully...

"Our world is no longer made up of self-contained homogenous societies living apart from one another. Men and women from a wide variety of traditions have been torn from their original
homes and have settled in foreign, even hostile, environments, where they have to live side by side and adapt to one another. Friction between them is inevitable... everything must be done to re-create the social fabric and allow the people living in this [situation] to gain confidence and recognition through peaceful activities.

For this purpose, it is indispensable to speak truthfully. This means not giving into fantasies, but not shying away from looking the facts in the face. Politically correct discourse is responsible for a great deal of hypocrisy and ignorance. Having said this, one also must be careful not to attack the wrong target, and mistake the awkward defense of outcasts and the poor for the enemy. On the pretext of avoiding the politically correct there is a danger of lapsing into the politically abject. And we have nothing to gain from this."

Tzvedan Todorov, from an interview in Critical Inquiry Magazine

Thursday, September 4, 2008

ruminations on the death penalty and violence...

Over at his blog, my pastor recently posted an entry on the struggle to understand Scriptural mandates regarding various ethical attitudes that many Christians hold onto (abortion, capital punishment, etc.). I added in my 2 cents about capital punishment, and I'm enjoying the discussion. I'm sure other comments would also be welcome. So, if you're interested, check it out.