Sunday, October 26, 2008

The danger of subordinating theology to philosophy...

"The danger in correlating theology with this or that philosophy (or any other discipline) is that of domesticating the divine, of reducing the strange new world of the Bible to this-worldly terms, of exchanging the scandal of the cross for the pottage of intellectual respectability. This is as much a danger in postmodernity as in modernity. Whereas the modern inclination was to exaggerate divine immanence, postmodern theologies tend to stress the "otherness" of God and to exaggerate divine transcendence. Their "God" is so "beyond" language and categories as to become amorphous... Yet Christians confess that Jesus Christ is God in human form; far from being amorphous, God has taken the form of a servant. The life of the man Jesus Christ is the criterion for understanding the identity of God." - Kevin Vanhoozer

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dalferth on the transcendence of persons...

"I only understand a person if I understand how she understands herself. This I cannot understand unless she communicates it to me. But what she communicates... is different from her own self-understanding, and what she communicates I can only understand in my own terms and not in others. Just as I cannot experience her experiences, I cannot understand her self-understanding in her own terms...

But there is a more basic opaqueness - not only of someone to someone else but also of a person to herself. For why should we assume that she understands herself at all, or better than I do? I have no direct access to myself as a person. Even if we distinguish, as Augustine does, between se cogitare (reflecting on oneself) and se nosse (knowing oneself), I not only need not be aware of what I know of myself... but will never fully become aware of it... if there is always more to be known about myself than I can become aware of, there is no definite limit to what I can become aware of about myself...

In short, since I am not fully accessible to myself, I am transcendent not only to others, but also to myself, and precisely this opens up possibilities for interpretation and understanding."

- Ingolf Dalferth

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On the church and our current political system...

"When I have the good fortune to find myself in a situation where part of the ruler's language of justification is the claim to have the consent of the governed, then I can use the machinery of democracy and I am glad to do so. But I do not therefore believe that I am governing myself or that 'we' as 'the people' are governing ourselves. We are still governed by an elite, most of whose decisions are not submitted to the people for approval. Of all the forms of oligarchy, democracy is the least oppressive, since it provides the strongest language of justification and therefore of critique which the subjects may use to mitigate its oppressiveness." - John Howard Yoder

"The church's identity is not formed by reaction against the state nor by its contribution to the state. The church remains a universal community, always embodied in a specific locality, that is never subordinated to some grand imperial scheme...

Yoder never assumed that the church was in a position to make democratic regimes or ensure their rule. Instead, he warns us that asking how the church contributes to the nation-state may itself tempt us to faithlessness...

Yoder sought to redirect our attention away from the question 'How shall we as Christians rule?' He did this precisely because Jesus himself redirects us away from this question. The appropriate question is how the church endures the powers." - Stephen Long

Friday, October 17, 2008

Why I love

...although it does add to my overall skepticism about our political system... :-P


Spin and hype were apparent, once again, at the third and final debate between McCain and Obama:

- McCain claimed the liberal group ACORN "is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history ... maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." In fact, a Republican prosecutor said of the biggest ACORN fraud case to date: "[T]his scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting." He said $8-an-hour workers turned in made-up voter registration forms rather than doing what ACORN paid them to do.

- McCain said "Joe the plumber" faced "much higher taxes" under Obama’s tax plan and would pay a fine under Obama's health care plan if he failed to provide coverage for his workers. But Ohio plumber Joe Wurzelbacher would pay higher taxes only if the business he says he wants to buy puts his income over $200,000 a year, and his small business would be exempt from Obama’s requirement to provide coverage for workers.

(Update Oct. 16: ABC News reported the morning after the debate that Wurzelbacher admitted to a reporter that he won't actually make enough from his new plumbing business to pay Obama's higher tax rates. ABC said his admission "would seem to indicate that he would be eligible for an Obama tax cut.")

- Obama repeated a dubious claim that his health care plan will cut the average family’s premiums by $2,500 a year. Experts have found that figure to be overly optimistic.

- McCain claimed that Obama’s real "object" is a government-run, single-payer health insurance system like those in Canada or England. The McCain campaign points to a quote from five years ago, when Obama told a labor gathering that he was "a proponent of a single-payer health care program." But Obama has since qualified his enthusiasm for Canadian-style health care, and his current proposal is nothing like that.

- Obama incorrectly claimed all of McCain’s ads had been "negative." That was true for one recent week, but not over the entire campaign. And at times Obama has run a higher percentage of attack ads than McCain.

- McCain described Colombia as the "largest agricultural importer of our products." Actually, Canada imports the most U.S. farm products, and Colombia is far down the list.

- Obama strained to portray himself as willing to break ranks with fellow Democrats. His prime example was his vote for a bill that was supported by 18 Democrats and opposed by 26. Congressional Quarterly rates him as voting with his party 97 percent of the time since becoming a U.S. senator.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I have taken the GRE and I feel fairly satisfied with the results... preparing for the test (which I took Monday) explains why I haven't posted much in the last week, in case anyone was wondering. Now it's on to the PhD applications, specifically developing my purpose statement. Woohoo!

Monday, October 6, 2008

God, power and love...

Power and Love. Love and Power. This dichotomy is the source of much of the confusion over, frustration with, and hatred of the Christian religion that exists today. Nearly every major struggle within Christianity has to do with, in some sense, the debate over which of these two divine attributes ought to retain primacy and why. Because, as most theologians seem to agree, the orthodox understanding of the Christian God must include both omnipotence (power) and omnibenevolence (love). Certainly there are some who re-define the terms, so as to escape the dilemma, and others simply reject the traditional perspective outright. But if we are attempting to remain as non-heretical as possible (if that's even possible!), we have to face this difficulty.

The problem of evil is a prime example. Do we say God is Love, and downplay God's power by arguing that true Love would never allow the horrific evils we see around us (i.e. God must not be powerful enough to stop all evil)? Or do we argue for God's Power/Sovereignty, and suggest that God's Love is beyond our understanding, and that God allows evil to happen for an ultimately good reason? This, of course, implies that God's definition of "Love" is extremely different from ours. It requires drastically re-thinking our definition of Love and, if taken too far, leads to an untrustworthy, capricious deity.

Traditionally, the gift of human free will, which is seen as a good thing, has offered a possible path out of the "slough of despond" that comes from asking these questions. But this raises a host of other questions that often seem to do nothing more than push the argument back to a non-human level (i.e. Did the devil have free will? If so, why did the devil reject God?). In the end, our human minds simply cannot grasp the true character of the God in whom we are asked to place our faith. So, there is always a lingering question: How do we hold together both God's omnipotence and Gods' omnibenevolence? Is there a way to understand this, or do we have no other option besides simple fideism at this point?

I am not proposing a solution; I am merely asking the question -- Which way do you lean? Do you tend to emphasize God's Love, or God's Power? Why?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

holding heaven and earth together...

I am a part of a "small group" at the church I attend, Bethany Community Church. We meet every Wed. night for dinner, discussion, and prayer. Lately we've been discussing the pastor's sermon series on The Apostle's Creed. Last night we talked about the section of the creed that presents God as "maker of heaven and earth."

One of the questions we considered had to do with our own approach to God, and whether we relate more to the "spiritual" side of things (considering God's attributes, prayer, listening for the Spirit, contemplation, etc) or the more "earthy" side (seeing God's handiwork in nature, interaction with other people, acts of service, etc). This led to a consideration of the challenge we have as Christians in holding both "heaven" and "earth" together in our faith.

Traditionally, much of Christianity has focused on the spiritual at the expense of the material. The common belief among many Christians is that the natural world is somehow a bad thing, and what Christians need to do is focus on rescuing souls from this sinful world and preparing them for heaven. But, recently (as has happened from time to time), many Christians have recaptured the understanding of creation as good. All that God created is good, and therefore has value, even though it has been corrupted by sin.

Instead of viewing the natural world, and our earthly bodies, as something that doesn't matter, a proper understanding of God's creative and redemptive work takes into account that just as God created everything good, God is also in the process of redeeming everything and making it good again - in fact, making it even better than before! (For a good description of what this restoration might look like, check out N.T. Wright's recent book, Surprised by Hope.)

So, what does this mean for us, as individual Christians, living in Seattle (at least our small group is ;-D) in 2008? There were two themes that stood out to me from our conversation:

1. Holding "heaven" and "earth" together means taking seriously both our responsibility to God and our responsibility to creation (including other people). It is not enough for us to be concerned with "evangelizing the lost"; our lives as followers of Christ should reflect the overall mission of Christ - to be involved in the transformation of all things, through God's power and love.

We do not "accept Jesus" and then relegate him to the "spiritual" section of our lives; Jesus captures us, and transforms us into his likeness, and we become agents of that transformation to the rest of creation. This means re-thinking our responsibility not only to other people, but to the earth as well, because as human beings we are inextricably connected to the natural order.

2. As Christians, although we do have a responsibility to live as agents of transformation, we do not live that way out of guilt or a need to perform, but out of gratitude. Instead of looking at the world as something that "needs fixing", we rejoice because we believe that God is always already in the process of fixing the world, and we get to be a part of that process!

This brings me to a quick point about the nature of stewardship. Often, the word "dominion" (used in Genesis and elsewhere in Scripture) is taken as an opportunity to manipulate creation for our own advantages. But the Hebrew word actually means something more akin to "responsible care for" the creation. If we are to care responsibly for creation, how does this change the way we treat people, animals, land, resources, etc? I don't think it's difficult to see that, in many ways, Christians have not been responsible care-givers to creation. This is something that we must change.

Of course, we will never succeed on our own, without God's involvement. But we do believe God is involved! And we don't need to beat ourselves up when we fail. But we do need to examine our motives, and see where we have neglected our responsibilities as agents of transformation, and then step out in faith, and begin to live in joyful hope as people who believe that God is making all things new.

Calvin and Hobbes... and theology... :-)

Lately, Dr. Richard Beck has been posting a series of enlightening and hilarious entries on "The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes." Here is the latest entry. Great stuff!