Friday, August 31, 2007

Alfred Hitchcock: the greatest director

With 21% of the vote, Alfred Hitchcock has been chosen as the greatest director of all time by readers of F&R. Hitchcock is known as the “master of suspense,” and with over 60 movies to his name, he is one of the undisputed masters of film. His most famous works include Psycho (1960), North by Northwest (1959), Vertigo (1958), Rear Window (1954), Dial M for Murder (1954), and The Birds (1963).

Between 1920 and 1922, Hitchcock (known as Hitch) got his start in film by designing the titles for movies with a studio in London. Eventually, his own talent as a director was recognized, and after a false start with the film Number 13, he finally directed his first feature film in 1925, The Pleasure Garden. After directing Saboteur in 1942, studios began naming his films after him (e.g., Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho). In 1980, he was knighted. Today, he is widely considered one of the most influential directors of all time. His films are beloved by people all over the world.

Useless trivia: Hitch had two major phobias—police and eggs. He never won an Oscar for Best Director.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Conversion to an Evangelical Pacifism

Nota bene: This essay on my “conversion” to pacifism was first posted at my friend Halden’s blog (Inhabitatio Dei) in an excellent series exploring pacifism from different theological traditions.

“The Most Dejected and Reluctant Pacifist in all America”

In his autobiographical memoir, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis describes himself on the night of his conversion as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (228-29). In a way, I share this with Lewis, in that I was probably the most reluctant convert to pacifism in all America.

I grew up in a stereotypical American evangelical home, in which all of the usual adjectives apply: Republican, conservative, inerrantist, literalistic, dispensational, creationist. But of all the various descriptors of the evangelicalism in which I was raised, pacifist is not one of them. I grew up rather in the kind of church that sang patriotic “hymns” on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July. I watched (with approval) pastors and elders year after year pray over young men going to serve in the military, giving them the Lord’s blessing and asking for their protection (seemingly unaware that they were asking for the death of their “enemies,” though I did not realize this until much later). I did not bother reading the news or following politics, because I simply assumed that as long as there was a Republican majority in Washington, the right decisions would be made for this country. I viewed pacifists the same way I viewed Catholics and Democrats: they were hopelessly flawed humans whose minds were clearly corrupted by sin.

But that’s not all. I was not merely a non-pacifist; I was resolutely anti-pacifist. I argued in a casual high school class debate in favor of the death penalty. I argued against the appeals process, saying that people sentenced to death should be executed immediately without investigation. In response to the counter-argument that innocent people are often executed, I said that such mistakes should be overlooked since the death penalty has the bonus “virtue” of being a form of population control. Even up through my final year at Wheaton College, I remained thoroughly opposed to pacifism. When a friend of mine came across the arguments against pacifism by John Milbank, I latched onto them, even asking him to send me a copy of the text just so I could add it to my anti-pacifist armory. I never actually read the argument; it was enough that I had it in case I ever actually encountered a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist. It was like insurance: the more one has, the safer one feels. (Interestingly, another weapon in my armory was the essay by Lewis, “Why I Am Not A Pacifist,” which was more an argument on the basis of name power, because the arguments in the essay are criminally weak.) But the one thing I never bothered to do was examine the actual arguments for and against pacifism. I never engaged in any investigation of the biblical texts or of the theological presuppositions. And thus my views remained relatively static until my final year at Wheaton College, when I started to read theology—i.e., when I consciously began my journey as a theologian.

The disintegration of my views on violence and peace was, for the most part, indirect. I did not read a book by Yoder or Bonhoeffer or Hauerwas that suddenly changed my mind. No single friend or professor challenged me with a cogent argument for nonviolence. The first direct influence came when I watched the film Romero about Archbishop Oscar Romero for my theology class at Wheaton. I did not realize it at the time, but the seeds for my eventual flip-flop on nonviolence and peace were planted then. In the end, the revolution in my own views was part of the larger disintegration of my relationship with American evangelicalism—at least the form in which I was raised. When the walls of the Religious Right “Jericho” came tumbling down—thanks in large part to Mark Noll, among others—my position against pacifism was dealt a fatal blow. All of this occurred within the past four years, and since then my views have only deepened through thorough study of theology and Holy Scripture.

My “conversion” to pacifism means that I must now face the kinds of arguments which I once used against people like myself. One of the most popular arguments raised against the pacifist position involves some version of the following scenario: A man breaks into your home and threatens your wife and children with death, and the only way to stop him is to kill him. The scenario is the most extreme case possible and is meant to coerce the obvious conclusion: kill the man. There are three problems with this argument: (1) first, the scenario is manipulative and circumvents the issues at stake by coercing a certain response; (2) second, the notion that we can discard the position of non-violence on the basis of an extreme case is highly problematic, since our ethical views should never be arrived at via contrived, manipulative situations; and (3) third, Jesus calls us to respond in a way that does not conform to the values of the world. We find in the Gospel of Matthew one of the hardest sayings of Jesus: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:37-39). It would be hard to find a more direct response to the situation. Certainly, Jesus does not respond in the way American evangelicals—who tend to worship unborn children, the nuclear family unit, individual rights, and protection of life and property—would like him to respond. But the call of Jesus is clear: we must follow him on the via crucis, on the way of peace and justice, the way of enemy-love and costly discipleship.

In the end, where does this leave me in terms of a tradition? I would like to call myself a Reformed pacifist—a mix between Karl Barth and André Trocmé. But I did not grow up in the Reformed tradition, and I am only Reformed in terms of my theological commitments and not in terms of my ecclesial commitments. I have leanings toward an Anabaptist ecclesiology, but I am uncomfortable with the lower christology and even lower sacramentology that goes along with this movement. I like elements of the Catholic social movements and the liberation theology born in Latin America (e.g., Oscar Romero), but I am neither Catholic nor Latino.

Where does this leave me? I suppose, when all is said and done, that I am an ad hoc pacifist. Karl Barth says of himself that he is a “chastened non-pacifist,” but then later in his Church Dogmatics he calls his position a “practical pacifism.” If Barth himself resides in the gray zone between these two positions, I myself would like to be a practical pacifist. I share Barth’s own discomfort with pacifism as a system, just as I am uncomfortable with universalism as a system. Both of them replace a person with a principle. I would rather place Jesus at the center of my faith and let him determine how I ought to think and to live. Instead of universalism, I confess that Jesus Christ is the Salvator Mundi, the savior of the world. Instead of pacifism, I confess that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, and that he has called his people to take up their crosses and follow him in the way of the cross. Practically, this makes me a pacifist. Personally, I think this makes me a Christian.

Prophet, But Not Priest or King: Another Flawed Political Reading of Jesus’ Teachings

In his article, “What the Beatitudes Teach”—published in the neoconservative/libertarian journal, Policy Review—Tod Lindberg discusses the social and political implications of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-12). The thesis is both simple and revealing:
The Beatitudes provide a dizzying commentary designed to turn upside down the political and social world of the Roman Empire of Caesar Augustus and of the Jewish religious elite of Judea and Jerusalem. This is the opening move of a more drastic and fundamental reassessment of political and social affairs, applying not only to its own time but to all future times, down to our day. More still: It points to the increasing fulfillment in this world of the promise of the human condition as such — and of the struggle against vast and daunting but not insurmountable obstacles that such fulfillment will require.
A couple things to notice: first, like many contemporary readers of Scripture, Lindberg interprets the Gospel accounts through a sociopolitical lens, in which Jesus is more of a revolutionary than a redeemer; second, the emphasis is on the fulfillment of Christ’s kingdom promises here and now (“in this world”). Neither of these are problematic on their own, but they can lead to a rather myopic interpretation of the Gospels if they are not placed in the broader context of Jesus’ own mission of reconciliation. In other words, talking about the political implications of the kingdom ends up being merely anthropology without talking about the one who actualized the kingdom in his life, death, and resurrection—i.e., without a robust christology underpinning it.

The rest of Lindberg’s (very long) essay contains some interesting and even profound statements, but the theological hole (christology) remains apparent throughout. He captures the communal, social nature of the Beatitudes very well. He recognizes that the Beatitudes always speak in terms of “groups of people,” not individuals. He also recognizes that Jesus’ sayings focus on common desires, and thus argues that “Jesus holds out the prospect of reconciliation of each individual’s desire for righteousness and universal fulfillment.” In other words, Jesus rejects the common impulse in modernity to see each individual’s desires as in direct conflict with the desires of others. Instead, Jesus seeks to bring people together for the sake of creating a new and different world ordered according to Jesusian principles.

The basic thrust of his thesis, therefore, is that Jesus gives these teachings in order to bring about a social revolution: “His ambitious political agenda is to rid the world of both persecuted and persecutors — opposite sides of the coin of persecution.” While this is certainly true, Lindberg seems to think that this Jesusian social movement is possible through strenuous moral effort—i.e., by striving to live in accordance with the Beatitudes. The following is an extended selection from the end of the article which exposes Lindberg’s theological mistake (italics added for emphasis):
At first glance, the main purpose of the Beatitudes seems to be to offer various consolations to the downtrodden. But while Jesus does this, he also propounds a stern standard of judgment and offers strict guidance for good behavior for those who find themselves in a position of privilege. This injunction takes the form of a warning: The days of abusive privilege are numbered. Jesus’ is not merely an ethereal threat, bound up in the afterlife and a world to come, which the nonbeliever can spurn with contempt in favor of worldly enjoyment. It is a threat based on changes coming to this world. It is a threat dangerous to ignore in the here-and-now. . . .

Jesus says that what is right, according to the Beatitudes, “shall” come to pass; he does not say when. However, the cumulative effect of the positive, stated promises of the Beatitudes and the negative, unstated repercussions for those who oppose righteousness point to a question that will be asked in this world about those who have come before: What side were you on? Did you defend your privileges at the expense of others or work to uplift those who found themselves downtrodden? Did you act only for yourself, or did you think of others as best you could, whenever you could? Did you run risks for what’s right, or was the risk you ran that the righteous would prevail? The merciless, the persecutors, the purveyors of conflict, the defenders of privilege — Jesus’s point is that they live in a world governed by fear, and he invites them to reflect on what might happen if the world turned on them and they suddenly became the ones with cause to fear.

But that world is not the world Jesus is promoting. In a world ordered according to Jesusian principles, there will be no persecution, even for those who have made a transition from a world in which they were persecutors. Even those who have been unmerciful will be shown mercy. Their fear of a world in which the tables are turned on them is in fact displaced fear of a more primordial — one might say existential — kind: a world that has no place for them. A world in which the attributes of privilege that they believe are essential to their being have been obliterated. A world in which they, in their conception of themselves, cannot continue to be. A world in which they must change if they are to remain. Jesus confronts the “bad person” not with something so simple — and easy to reject — as a competing model of how to live a better life. Rather, he forces a radical confrontation within the “bad person” over the very possibility of his or her continued existence.

. . . The Jesusian political agenda is thus organized around the pursuit of righteousness by those who are able — at potential risk to their own lives — for the sake of a world in which the unvalued (including they themselves when they are persecuted) are at last fully valued as human beings.

How, then, does Jesus envision that the gentle will come to inherit the earth? Because the once-mighty, under pressure of precisely this kind, will die out as a type. They will change their minds about defending their privileges at the expense of others. And the world will be their dying bequest to the gentle.
Lindberg gets some things right, but other things very wrong. He is quite right that Jesus confronts a person not with a “competing model of how to live a better life,” but rather with an existential crisis. He confronts a person with “the very possibility of his or her continued existence.” But Lindberg is stuck in a moralistic framework which divides people into two groups: “good people” and “bad people.” The scare-quotes only qualify this distinction so much. Lindberg still thinks Jesus divides people into two moral categories: those who abide by his teachings and those who do not. The former constitute the kingdom, the new sociopolitical world which “his teaching will build in this world.” (As Lindberg states, very tellingly, “It’s their kingdom.”) The latter, on the other hand, will (in time) simply “die out as a type.” Jesus only confronts the “bad people.” The existential crisis only concerns those people who are not already in line with his social revolution. The crisis is thus a moral one, not a truly ontological crisis.

This leads me to my final and main criticism. The Jesus presented here by Lindberg is a prophet who proclaims a radically new kingdom—“a kingdom organized not from the top down, but from the bottom up”—but he is not a priest who reconciles the world to God, nor is a king who rules the world with peace and justice. Jesus is simply the prophet whose words alone are the basis for the kingdom. His life, death, and resurrection are marginal to the picture Lindberg paints. Jesus does not establish the kingdom through a mission of redemption, but rather he teaches others how to bring about the kingdom for themselves. Jesus does not rule the kingdom as the risen and ascended king, but leaves the world to the meek and poor to bring about through their own moral effort. Righteousness, according to Lindberg, is something realized “by those who are able”—i.e., the “good people.” It is not realized by the Righteous One, the Messiah. The mighty and privileged do not “die out” because of the cross which crucifies the sin of humanity, but because “they will change their minds.”

In the end, Lindberg offers an anthropocentric, rather than christocentric, political reading of the Beatitudes. His interpretation results in an impotent Jesus incapable of accomplishing the New Jerusalem promised by the covenant between God and God’s people. Jesus proclaims a political agenda—which is (correctly) immanent but (incorrectly) not eschatological—but he is incapable of accomplishing this agenda. Jesus is prophet, but not priest or king. Lindberg portrays Jesus as a wise revolutionary worthy of our attention, but not the Son of God worthy of our worship.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

James Stephens: “enmity is at an end”

“In the Fullness of Time”

On a rusty iron throne
In the farthest bounds of space,
I saw Satan sit alone.
Old and haggard was his face,
For his work was done and he
Rested in eternity.

Down to him from out the sun
Came his brother and his friend
Saying, “Now the work is done,
Enmity is at an end.”
And he guided Satan to
Paradise that he knew.

Uriel, without a frown,
Michael without a spear,
Gabriel came winging down,
Welcoming their ancient peer,
And they seated him beside
One who had been crucified.

—James Stephens, quoted in Madeleine L’Engle, Penguins & Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2003), 226-27.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Paul among the Evangelicals, §3: The Argument (3.2.2)

3.2.2. Possibility and actuality: does Christ make salvation possible or actual?

The foregoing debates are closely related to a central theological debate within evangelicalism, whether the “one man’s act of righteousness” is effective for those whom it includes (“all”; “all in Christ”) or merely makes justification and life a possibility which each individual must make actual in the decision of faith. This is less of a textual debate than a theological debate between those who side with the Augustinian-Calvinist position and those who side with the Arminian position. The former position argues that Christ’s act of obedience brings about or actualizes justification and life, but limits the scope of justification; the latter position argues that “Paul really did have in mind all human beings but his statement, they insist, carries no implication of actual salvation.”[32] Such a distinction is an oversimplification, but it is nevertheless the one which dominates the evangelical literature. On a textual level, the universalists have the upper hand, since Rom. 5 on its own does not speak of an offer of salvation or the possibility of being saved.[33] Marshall, a defender of Arminian universalism, anticipates this point by arguing that Paul is not concerned in this passage “with how salvation is received but rather with the universality of the provision, and the way in which it is through Christ that God operates. It is therefore not surprising that there is nothing explicit here on the response of faith.”[34] Marshall ends up making sense of Rom. 5 by imposing a possibility-to-be-actualized narrative into the text. William Barclay, also Arminian, reads the text more faithfully, but he ends up declaring that Paul’s argument in Rom. 5 has “one great flaw”—viz. that our relation to Adam is “purely physical” and thus leaves us no choice in the matter, while “our connection to Christ is voluntary.”[35] Barclay states frankly that Paul is right to emphasize our universal bondage in sin, but wrong to give the impression that Christ similarly effects liberation for all apart from our decision to accept or reject Christ.

This is a matter that needs to be addressed in depth, but it would take us too far afield from the purpose of this paper. The theological questions at stake are rooted in confessional divisions that have far-reaching consequences. Even so, one textual argument is worth noting for the sake of contributing to the discussion. Part of the problem with the non-universalist argument is that it depends upon a sharp difference between the way Adam affects “all” and the way Christ affects “all.” One possible textual solution to this problem for the non-universalist is to deny that Adam’s sin brings about the actuality of humanity’s condemnation. Contrary to the Latin translation used by Augustine, the ἐφ᾽ ᾧ in Rom. 5:12 is best read as “because,” so that “death spread to all because all have sinned.” On this basis, Adam does not actualize the sinfulness of each and every individual, but rather makes such sinfulness possible by being the cause of death entering the world. Similarly, on this non-universalist reading, Christ brought justification into the world, but such justification only comes to all on the basis of their faith. This reading, which I have not found in any literature, is the strongest argument for a non-universalist reading of Rom. 5, because it handles the text more faithfully and does not allow arbitrary changes in meaning, as Barclay, Marshall, and others are prone to do.[36] The failure of this non-universalist argument would have to rest on theological grounds, rather than purely textual ones. Of course, this interpretation does not preclude Talbott and MacDonald from responding that the actualization of this possibility can extend throughout eternity. Non-universalists would still need to argue against this point.

[To see the outline of the series with links to the other posts, click here.]

32. Thomas Talbott, “Christ Victorious,” in Parry and Partridge, 21.

33. MacDonald, 83.

34. I. Howard Marshall, “The New Testament Does Not Teach Universal Salvation,” in Parry and Partridge, 67.

35. Barclay, 81.

36. Whether non-universalist interpreters would be comfortable with adaptations to the traditional doctrine of original sin is still an open question.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back from Portland

My wife and I have returned from our five week trip to our home town of Portland, Oregon. You can see some pictures from our trip on my new Flickr widget (though for some reason it is only showing the pictures I most recently uploaded to Flickr; I’m working on fixing this). We had a wonderful time in Oregon, as usual. We saw many friends, ate great food, drank excellent craft beer, saw lots of movies, and read some really good books. I also bought my dream lighter. While my first calling is always to proclaim Christ, if I can convert everyone to at least take one trip to Oregon, I will consider it a life well lived.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

PET I: What Is the Church?

Problems in Ecclesiology Today I: What Is the Church?

Defining the church: yesterday, today, and tomorrow

How do we define the Christian church? The prospect of summarizing the community of God’s people in a concise statement is daunting, even without the particular problems facing the church today. The church is more divided today than ever before. The ecumenical project that marked the 20th century is largely absent, now only a memory that lives on in certain isolated pockets of the contemporary church. On top of the historical developments, our culture today is more suspicious of precise definitions than ever before. More and more, theological definitions are seen as antiquated and rigid, lifeless and irrelevant. Certainly, like all theological statements, a definition of the church is bound to come up short and most likely fail altogether. Nevertheless, we need ways of communicating the identity of the church—both for others and for ourselves. We are witnessing the arrival of an age in which people are both resistant to a definition of the church and seemingly incapable even of attaining one due to the ever-increasing fragmentation of the global Christian community.

In this complex age, we need ways of capturing the complex and multifaceted existence of the church without abandoning its unified identity in Jesus Christ. We need ways of expressing the particularities without losing the universals. But we also need ways of communicating the trunk without chopping off the branches; we need to hone in on the root identity of the ecclesial community without positing an idealized form of the church that has no actual relation to the concrete communities in our midst. In other words, we need ways of articulating the esse of the church without falling into essentialism. Throughout the history of the church, we have done this in a variety of different ways—including narratives, creedal formulations, and theological propositions.

In this introduction to my series on “Problems in Ecclesiology Today,” I begin by quoting important statements about the being and life of the church, from the pages of Holy Scripture to modern catechisms. These quotes are by no means exhaustive, but they provide a broad sampling of views on the Christian church. Many modern views are missing and will be added as time permits. This list currently also lacks the views of the mystics, which is an important voice that ought not be excluded. If you would like to contribute to this list, I would be more than happy to augment the present list of quotes.

In the coming weeks, I will present brief opinions on issues facing the church today. But in order to assess the present we need to remember our past. These quotes provide small snapshots of the history of the church—or at least the history of the doctrine of the church. By looking to the past, we can more adequately assess the present as we orient ourselves toward the future. An examination such as this naturally raises the question: How will future generations define the Christian community? While we, of course, cannot say with any certainty how people will look back upon this current age, we should at least seek to embody more faithfully the community of faith to which God has called us. May these quotes remind us of our common identity, our rich heritage, and the faithfulness of God throughout the ages.


Gospel according to Matthew:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:16-20)

Gospel according to Luke:
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. … Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self?” (Lk. 9:1-6, 23-25)

Gospel according to John:
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (Jn. 17:6-19)

Acts of the Apostles:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

Epistle to the Ephesians:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together in the Spirit into a dwelling place for God. (Eph. 2:19-22)

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:4-5)

But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.” (Chap. XIV)

Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians:
The Apostles for our sakes received the gospel from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ then is from God, and the Apostles from Christ. Both therefore came in due order from the will of God. Having therefore received his instructions and being fully assured through the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, they went forth with confidence in the word of God and with full assurance of the Holy Spirit, preaching the gospel that the Kingdom of God was about to come. (¶xlii)

Irenaeus, Against Heresies:
Since therefore there are so many proofs, there is now no need to seek among others the truth which we can easily obtain from the Church. For the Apostles have lodged all that there is of the truth with her, as with a rich bank, holding back nothing. And so anyone that wishes can draw from her the draught of life. This is the gateway of life; all the rest are thieves and robbers. (III.iv.1)

Cyprian, On the Unity of the Catholic Church:
The episcopate is one; the individual members have each a part, and the parts make up the whole. The Church is a unity; yet by her fruitful increase she is extended far and wide to form a plurality; even as the sun has many rays, but one light; and a tree many boughs but one trunk … So also the Church, flooded with the light of the Lord, extends her rays over all the globe: yet it is one light which is diffused everywhere and the unity of the body is not broken up. … The spouse of Christ cannot be made an adulteress; she is undefiled and chaste. She knows but one home, and guards with virtuous chastity the sanctity of one chamber. She it is who preserves us for God, who enrolls into the Kingdom the sons she has borne. … He cannot have God for his father who has not the Church for his mother. (§5-6)

Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed:
We believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Cyril of Jerusalem, The Catechetical Lectures:
[The Church] is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts. (XVIII.23)

Martin Luther, The Larger Catechism:
I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. I am also a part and member of the same a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it. For formerly, before we had attained to this, we were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ. Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He fetches us to Christ and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing it [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which He produces. (II.¶53)

Augsburg Confession (1530):
Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered. And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5, 6. (Article VII)

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion:
Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists (cf. Eph. 2:20). (4.1.9)

Menno Simons, Concerning the Church:
In the first place, it should be taken into consideration, that the community of God, or the church of Christ, is an assembly of the pious, and a community of the saints, as is represented by the Nicene symbol; who, from the beginning have firmly trusted and believed in the promised seed of the woman, which is the promised Prophet, Messiah, Shilo, King, Prince, Emmanuel and Christ; who accept his word in sincerity of heart; follow his example, are led by his Spirit, and who trust in his promise in the Scriptures (Deut. 18:18; Gen. 49:10; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Isaiah 7:14). Such are now, generally called Christians or the church of Christ, because they are born of Christ's word by means of faith, by his Spirit, and are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, as the children of Jacob, on account of their natural birth, were called the house of Israel (Rom. 9:7, 9). … In the second place, it should be observed that the church of the pious is from the beginning; yet, it had not always the same ordinance; nor was it always called by one name in the Scriptures. … In the third place, it should be observed that the Christian church is of God, as Paul says, “For both he that sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified, are all of one” (Heb. 2:11). For as Christ Jesus, who is the true Savior, is of God, nay, God’s only begotten and firstborn Son, so also are all those who, in sincerity of heart, believe his word, and are actuated by his Spirit.

Heidelberg Catechism (1562):
What believest thou concerning the “holy catholic church” of Christ? That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain, a living member thereof. What do you understand by “the communion of saints”? First, that all and every one, who believes, being members of Christ, are in common, partakers of him, and of all his riches and gifts; secondly, that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members. (QQ. 54-55)

The Thirty-Nine Articles (1563):
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. (XIX)

Belgic Confession (1619):
We believe and confess one single catholic or universal church—a holy congregation and gathering of true Christian believers, awaiting their entire salvation in Jesus Christ being washed by his blood, and sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit. This church has existed from the beginning of the world and will last until the end, as appears from the fact that Christ is eternal King who cannot be without subjects. And this holy church is preserved by God against the rage of the whole world, even though for a time it may appear very small in the eyes of men—as though it were snuffed out. For example, during the very dangerous time of Ahab the Lord preserved for himself seven thousand men who did not bend their knees to Baal (1 Kgs. 19:18). And so this holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain persons. But it is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world, though still joined and united in heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith. (Article 27)

Dordrecht Confession of Faith (1632):
We believe in, and confess a visible church of God, namely, those who, as has been said before, truly repent and believe, and are rightly baptized; who are one with God in heaven, and rightly incorporated into the communion of the saints here on earth. These we confess to be the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, who are declared to be the bride and wife of Christ, yea, children and heirs of everlasting life, a tent, tabernacle, and habitation of God in the Spirit, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ Himself is declared to be the cornerstone (upon which His church is built). This church of the living God, which He has acquired, purchased, and redeemed with His own precious blood; with which, according to His promise, He will be and remain always, even unto the end of the world, for consolation and protection, yea, will dwell and walk among them, and preserve them, so that no floods or tempests, nay, not even the gates of hell, shall move or prevail against them-this church, we say, may be known by their Scriptural faith, doctrine, love, and godly conversation, as, also, by the fruitful observance, practice, and maintenance of the true ordinances of Christ, which He so highly enjoined upon His disciples. (Article VIII)

Westminster Standards: The Larger Catechism (1647):
The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the truth religion, and of their children. … The visible church has the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, not withstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him. … The invisible church is the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head. … The members of the invisible church by Christ enjoy union and communion with him in grace and glory. (QQ. 62-65)

The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689:
The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that fills all in all (Heb. 12:23; Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:10, 22, 23, 5:23, 27, 32). (26.1)

In the execution of this power wherewith he is so intrusted, the Lord Jesus calls out of the world unto himself, through the ministry of his word, by his Spirit, those that are given unto him by his Father (John 10:16; John 12:32), that they may walk before him in all the ways of obedience, which he prescribes to them in his word (Matt. 28:20). Those thus called, he commands to walk together in particular societies, or churches, for their mutual edification, and the due performance of that public worship, which he requires of them in the world (Matt. 18:15-20). (26.5)

Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith:
That a Church is nothing but a communion or association relating to religion or piety, is beyond all doubt for us Evangelical (Protestant) Christians, since we regard it as equivalent to degeneration in a Church when it begins to occupy itself with other matters as well, whether the affairs of science or of outward organization; just as we also always oppose any attempt on the part of the leaders of State or of science, as such, to order the affairs of religion. (§3.1)

Barmen Declaration (1934):
The Christian Church is the community of brethren in which, in Word and sacrament, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ acts in the present as Lord. With both its faith and its obedience, with both its message and its order, it has to testify in the midst of the sinful world, as the Church of pardoned sinners, that it belongs to him alone and lives and may live by his comfort and under his direction alone, in expectation of his appearing. We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day. (Article 3)

Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology:
The Spiritual Community is the community of faith and love, participating in the transcendent unity of unambiguous life. The participation is fragmentary because of the finitude of life, and it is not without tensions because of the polarity of individualization and participation, which is never absent from any finite being. The Spiritual Community as the dynamic essence of the churches makes them existing communities of faith and love in which the ambiguities of religion are not eliminated but are conquered in principle. The phrase “in principle” does not mean in abstracto but means … the power of beginning, which remains the controlling power in a whole process. In this sense the Spiritual Presence, the New Being, and the Spiritual Community are principles. The ambiguities of the religious life are conquered in principle in the churches’ life; their self-destructive force is broken. … The ambiguities of religion in the churches are conquered by unambiguous life in so far as they embody the New Being. But this “in so far” warns us against identifying the churches with the unambiguous life of the transcendent union. Where the church is, there is a point at which the ambiguities of religion are recognized and rejected but not removed. (172-73)

Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994):
“The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.” The Church is at the same time: a “society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ; the visible society and the spiritual community; the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches.” These dimensions together constitute “one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element”: “The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.” (¶771)

Mennonite Confession of Faith (1995):
We believe that the church is the assembly of those who have accepted God's offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The church is the new community of disciples sent into the world to proclaim the reign of God and to provide a foretaste of the church's glorious hope. The church is the new society established and sustained by the Holy Spirit. The church, the body of Christ, is called to become ever more like Jesus Christ, its head, in its worship, ministry, witness, mutual love and care, and the ordering of its common life. We acknowledge the church as the society of believers from many nations, anointed for witness by the Holy Spirit. … The church is the assembly of those who voluntarily commit themselves to follow Christ in life and to be accountable to one another and to God, while recognizing that the church is imperfect and thus in constant need of repentance. The church's identity as God's people of faith is sustained and renewed as members gather regularly for worship. … The church is the household, or family, of God. … We believe that the church as the body of Christ is the visible manifestation of Jesus Christ. The church is called to live and minister as Christ lived and ministered in the world. As many members belong to one body, so all believers have been baptized in one Spirit into the one body of Christ. … The church exists as a community of believers in the local congregation, as a community of congregations, and as the worldwide community of faith. (Article 9)

Study Catechism PCUSA (1998):
The church is the company of all faithful people who have given their lives to Jesus Christ, as he has given and gives himself to them. Since Christ cannot be separated from his people, the church is holy because he is holy, and universal (or “catholic”) in significance because he is universal in significance. Despite all its remaining imperfections here and now, the church is called to become ever more holy and catholic, for that is what it already is in Christ.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Spirit of the Lord, §10.6.2: Eschatological Basis

10.6.2. The Eschatological Basis of the Ekklesia

In light of the actuality of the ekklesia, we turn now to its possibility: what must be true in order for the ekklesia to embody the eschatological regnum Dei? The ekklesia is the eschaton made present only because Jesus Christ established the reality of the eschaton in his life, death, and resurrection. In other words, the eschatological ground of possibility for the ecclesial community is God incarnate, the Lamb of God who gave himself up “for us and for our salvation,” in our place and on our behalf. Eschatology and ecclesiology are both soteriologically grounded. The being of the church and the eternal reign of God are both actualized in the cross of Christ: through his crucified body he “abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Eph. 2:15-16). Ephesians speaks here not only of the eschatological promise of the “new covenant” (Jer. 31:31-34) in which the old law is no more and Israel and Judah are reconciled together as one people, but also of the eschatological promise of the “new creation” (Isa. 65:17) in which all of humanity will be reconciled as one family and the divisions of sin will be annihilated by the blood of Christ. As a result of his reconciling death, therefore, Christ proclaims peace to all people, giving everyone “access in one Spirit to the Father.” The author of Ephesians can thus declare: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:18-20). The ekklesia is the “household of God” built upon the salvific life, death, and resurrection of Immanuel, the Messiah of God. The ekklesia is the community of peace because “he is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). The ekklesia is an eschatological community of reconciliation because Christ has put to death the hostility of sin in order that the fecundity of new life might thrive by the Spirit. In other words, the very being and life of the church is rooted in the being and life of Christ. The essence and existence of the ekklesia is rooted in the essence and existence of Immanuel, Deus nobiscum.

Ephesians is not the only epistle to clarify the christological grounding for ecclesiology and eschatology. We find further elaboration of Christ’s centrality to the ecclesial community and the reign of God in both 1 Corinthians and Colossians. In the former, we need only examine the climactic passage in 1 Cor. 15. Paul begins this chapter by recounting the “good news”: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (vv. 3-5). The appearance of Christ is an appearance which calls people to the task of witness. Paul simply assumes that those to whom Christ appears will become messengers of the gospel. (Perhaps this is why Christ only appeared to a select few in the Gospel accounts.) After grounding the ecclesial community in the Resurrected One, Paul goes on then to explicate the eschatological significance of Christ’s bodily resurrection. Paul transitions from a focus on the past reality of Christ’s resurrection (as an event about which we testify) to a focus upon the future reality of our resurrection on the basis of Christ’s resurrection (as the “first fruits” of what is yet to come). While the church is grounded in the appearance of Christ, the eschaton is grounded in the reign of Christ. Paul writes: “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. . . . When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all” (vv. 21-26, 28). In this important passage, Paul moves through the three temporal modes of the eschaton—past, present, future: “Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end . . .” The church exists as the present-tense mode of the eschaton on the basis of Christ, who is the “first fruits of those who have died” (v. 20). Paul locates the church in these verses within a clearly eschatological framework—not as the church of witness but as the church of the resurrection, the church of those who “belong to Christ” and thus are “made alive in Christ.” The final, future, and unsurpassable form of the eschaton is thus centered on Christ as the one who reigns supreme over death, granting life to the world “so that God may be all in all.” 1 Cor. 15 provides a clear account of Christ’s centrality both to the eschaton and to the eschatological identity of the ekklesia.

The book of Colossians is one of the most christocentric passages in the entire New Testament, and thus it provides an important resource for elucidating the christological framework for the church and the eschaton. Unlike Ephesians, the book of Colossians does not focus upon the church itself; it is much more indirect, preferring instead to speak about Christ and only then about the church in the light of what Christ accomplished. In the introduction, the author of Colossians says that the Father “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14). With this, the author enters into a Christ-hymn comparable to what we find in Jn. 1 and Phil. 2, combined with elements found in 1 Cor. 15 and 2 Cor. 5, making Col. 1 the most comprehensive doxological summary of Christ’s identity: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” The Colossians Christ-hymn is sufficient to demonstrate the centrality of Christ to the ekklesia. As in 1 Cor. 15, Christ’s identity is both cosmically and ecclesially constitutive: he is the “firstborn of all creation” as well as the “firstborn from the dead”; he is the one in whom “all things hold together” and the “head of the body, the church.” At the center of Christ’s ecclesial and eschatological identity is the fact that in him “God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.” This reconciliation is definitive for all creation—“whether on earth or in heaven”—but it takes concrete form in the life of the church, to whom this letter is addressed. As a result, in Col. 1:21, the author shifts from a cosmic third-person perspective to a personal second-person address: “And you who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled . . .” The hymn in Col. 1 unites the eschatological and the ecclesial in the ontologically constitutive history of Jesus Christ.

The rest of Colossians goes on to amplify what Col. 1 establishes at the start of the book. In terms of the eschatological significance of Christ, we read that in his death and resurrection he “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (2:15). Moreover, “with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe” (2:20), and thus human laws, regulations, and ways of thinking have all lost their importance. Christ has inaugurated a new age—a new creation—and the old age is now truly old (cf. 3:9-10). The apocalyptic dichotomy between new and old undergirds statements like “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:2), which is not a gnostic division between heaven and earth but an eschatological division between old and new, death and life, finite and eternal. In terms of the ecclesiological significance of Christ, we read that the mystery of Christ “has now been revealed to his saints” (1:26). Consequently, the mission of the church is to proclaim Christ, “warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28). The church is not a fortress where you go to escape from hell; it is rather a community of discipleship that shapes people into the image of Christ by the power of the Spirit. The author of Colossians then implores those who have received Christ to “live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (2:6-7). But this is only possible because “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3; cf. Gal. 2:20). Perhaps most important is the way Col. 2:9-15 runs parallel to Col. 1:15-20: both passages are centered on the reconciling history of Christ, but the major difference is that the former passage is ecclesially focused and written in the second person. In sum, the book of Colossians offers a robust christocentric theology, in which the salvific history of Jesus Christ is the center and norm for all theological reflection on the eschaton and the ekklesia.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

C. S. Lewis and Rousseau as religious pluralists

In his famous novel, Émile (1762), Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a short section, entitled, “The Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar,” in which a vicar pours out his heart to a young listener regarding his faith and his views on religion. The passage was not well-received because of a controversial section in which the priest seems to support a kind of religious pluralism. Here is the contested section (from §225, italics mine):
I look upon the various particular religions as so many salutary institutions, prescribing in different countries an uniform manner of public worship; and which may all have their respective reasons, peculiar to the climate, government, or laws of the people adopting them, or some other motive which renders the one preferable to the other according to the circumstance of time and place. I believe all that are established to be good when God is served in sincerity of heart. This service is all that is essential. He rejects not the homage of the sincere, under whatsoever form they present it.
Rousseau’s vicar views religion as the service of God, and that service may be done within any religious framework. Orthopraxy, not orthodoxy, is what matters: “I seek not to know any thing more than what relates to my moral conduct; and as to those dogmas which have no influence over the behavior, and about which so many persons give themselves so much trouble, I am not at all solicitous.”

Two hundred years later, C. S. Lewis is well-known as a favorite author among Christians for his many books, including Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia. In the final Narnia book, The Last Battle, Lewis has a section near the end of the book in which a Calormene is welcomed by Aslan into the “new Narnia.” The Calormene has, for all his life, served the “terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people” (42). When the Calormene finally comes face-to-face with the “Glorious One” Aslan, the interaction between them is quite surprising for the average exclusivist evangelical:
I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou has done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? (205)
Rousseau and Lewis convey very similar sentiments in their respective novels. Through the mouth of a vicar (Rousseau) and a lion (Lewis), each author presents an argument for a kind of religious pluralism. Both emphasize moral action over the profession of certain beliefs. Both identify religion with service to God. And Lewis, in particular, seems to view God as one who rewards moral human action while letting a person be punished by Satan for immoral action (it is clear that God does not punish, but rather gives that person up to the false god, who might be identified with the devil of classical Christian thought).

Questions for Discussion:
What do you think about these two passages? Do you agree with the vicar and/or with Aslan? What is the basis for your agreement or disagreement? Is Lewis the Rousseau of the 20th century? Or is Lewis something different altogether? Is the Enlightenment the basis for each author’s views? Is there a better argument for religious pluralism than the views presented by these two authors, and if so, what? What do you think about the emphasis on orthopraxy over orthodoxy? What is the relation between right actions and right beliefs, and how does one’s salvation relate to these twin dimensions of religion? Finally, where might an Eastern view of religion (as opposed to these Western European views) agree or disagree with the views presented here?

Monday, August 20, 2007

New blog: theklines

My friends from Wheaton and now Princeton Seminary, Peter and Megan Kline, are both seminary students and a husband-and-wife musical duo. Their new blog, theklines, is a forum for the discussion of their favorite music (Over the Rhine) and a way for them to get their music into the world. As the site develops, you will find music, pictures, theological commentary on songs, and information on upcoming shows.

If you are in the Princeton area (broadly speaking), look out for their upcoming shows. They hope to play about once a month.

Iraq in the eyes of soldiers

The most popular article in the NY Times at the moment—“The War as We Saw It”—is an excellent piece written by several soldiers who have recently served in Iraq. The article gives a sense of just how complex the situation is on a day-to-day basis. Two quotes stood out to me. The first is just a good bit of wisdom:
Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
The second is more directly related to the war in Iraq:
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.
[NYT; H/T to WTM]

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Problems in Ecclesiology Today: A Series

I am starting a new series called “Problems in Ecclesiology Today” (or PET, for short) that will briefly address issues facing the global church today, with a special emphasis on American evangelicalism as the tradition with which I am the most familiar. I will not attempt to exhaust the issues or offer definitive “solutions,” but rather I hope to raise important questions and some possible avenues toward transformation and renewal. These will be “modest proposals,” so to speak. My primary intention is to create a forum for honest and open discussion of these problems.

I will publish a new post in the series each Sunday, since there’s no better day to raise questions about ecclesiology and the church today. I welcome your comments and look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue about these matters. I do not know how long this series will run. I suppose it will end when I run out of problems to think about!

Here is an index of the posts in the series so far:
  • PET I: What Is the Church?
  • PET II: The De-Catholicization of the Church: inculcating a church family in the 21st century
  • PET III: Missional Theology: in vogue or indispensable?
  • PET IV: Women in Ministry
  • PET V: Congregational Homogeneity: an unintentional segregation
  • PET VI: Youth Ministry and the Problem of Relevancy
  • PET VII: Can We Get Political?
  • PET VIII: Emerging Church—heretics or heroes?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Emo Ergo Sum: further thoughts on consumerism

After my post on consumerism, other bloggers joined the conversation about the relation between Christians and money in an age of overspending, credit debt, and shopping malls the size of small towns. Lee brings up consumerism in relation to global warming and climate change. Kim discusses at length the basic American assumption, accepted by most Christians: “I want X; therefore, I will buy it.” And Chris says that the church can demonstrate the alternative axiom—Christus vivit ergo sum—“by our love, by simpler lives, by the way we raise our children, and yes, by the way we save and invest in Kingdom activities.”

These posts are just part of a larger conversation that the church (in America and around the world) needs to have. The growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere and the corresponding increase of popularity in pentecostalism and the so-called “prosperity gospel” makes this issue especially important in terms of the global church today. The church in the rich northern hemisphere has its own problems. Those of us who like to disdain the Age of Constantine are witnessing a new version of the Constantinian church in terms of economic power rather than political power. Part of what made the imperial blessing of Christianity such a travesty was the way the church went from being the persecuted church to the persecuting church. The church moved from its position alongside Christ on the way to the cross in the position of the Roman soldiers who nailed him to it. The pax Christi became subsumed within the pax Romana.

Today, we see a similar blessing of the church in terms of economics. The church in America—particularly the so-called “emerging” churches—are communities of the rich. As long as Christians continue to be consumers who offer the appropriate propitiation to Mammon, the church remains a welcome segment of modern culture, a community without the scandal of the cross getting in the way of its “relevancy.” We are still the Constantinian church, just in a modern capitalistic form. And just as before, the pax Christi is now subsumed within the pax Americana.

In the midst of this bleak landscape, I think we would do well to meditate on these words of Isaiah:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isa. 55:1-2)

New blog: Kevinsubers

My friend Kevin Subers has started a new blog focused not on theological but on political issues. His training in economics and finance has led him to start a series on the ethics of Bush’s tax policies. A lot of this stuff is pretty technical, but if you are interested in a close analysis of Bush’s economic policies, this blog is the place to go.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Paul among the Evangelicals, §3: The Argument (3.2.1)

3.2.1. Does Paul Really Mean “All”?

Commenting on the parallel structure of Rom. 5:18-19, Talbott writes what serves as a unifying theme among proponents of universalism in Paul:
The whole point of such a parallel structure, so typical of Paul, is to identify a single group of individuals and to make two parallel statements about that single group of individuals, and the effect is therefore to eliminate any possibility of ambiguity. The very ones who came under condemnation, as a result of the first Adam’s act of disobedience, will eventually be brought to justification and life, as a result of the second Adam’s act of obedience.[17]
The heart of the universalist case rests in the parallel between the protasis and apodosis in each of the two verses. There have been a number of various strategies used to attack this admittedly plain reading of the text. I will summarize the strongest counter-arguments, while providing the responses by defenders of universalism. First, one of the stronger counter-arguments is that Paul means by the term “all” the fact that condemnation and justification apply to both Jews and Gentiles without distinction. The strength of this argument rests in the fact that it does not force a change in the referent between the first “all” and the second “all.” Each time Paul uses “all” or “many” (at least in Rom. 5), he simply means to say that Jews and Gentiles (i.e., all kinds of people) are both included, though of course the emphasis is slightly different. Thus, Paul means to emphasize in the protasis that Jews are just as much under condemnation as Gentiles, whereas in the apodosis he means to emphasize that Gentiles are just as much justified as Jews. According to MacDonald, “this claim has considerable plausibility,” in light of the context of Paul’s argument thus far.[18] In his arguments against universalism in Romans, I. Howard Marshall, a defender of the Arminian position, writes:
The one/many contrast is used of both Adam and Christ to show that both affect the whole human race and not just the Jews. So Paul’s aim is not necessarily to assert that all will be saved but that the work of Christ is for all, and that he alone is the Saviour in virtue of the one saving event of his death.[19]
The point in this argument is that Paul does not mean to say that every individual will be saved, but that the extent of salvation is as wide as the extent of condemnation. Jews and Gentiles are equal in both sin and salvation; neither has an advantage over the other, so there is no cause for boasting. As Paul himself states: “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22b-23).

Clearly, no defender of universalism in Romans 5 will deny this argument. A “multiracial universalism” of this sort is certainly a necessary implication of Paul’s overall argument in Romans; it is about the least one could say on the basis of these verses. The question, then, is whether such an interpretation is sufficient. At this point, MacDonald raises the simple objection that Paul’s use of πᾶς does not preclude the inclusion of every individual Jew and Gentile. He bases his argument on Rom. 3:9b-12, where Paul—arguing for a universal unrighteousness among Jews and Gentiles both—declares on the basis of Eccl. 7:20 that “there is no one righteous, not even one.”[20] MacDonald thus reverses the flow of Paul’s logic: the primary notion in Paul is not that both Jews and Gentiles are equal in relation to sin and salvation, though we cannot speak on an individual level; rather, it is that each individual is equal in relation to sin and salvation, which then implies an equality among Jews and Gentiles.[21] At the very least, it is obvious that Paul does not intend his argument to leave open the possibility that some individuals may actually fall outside the scope of Adam’s condemnation. If we thus grant that “all” in the protasis means “all who have sinned,” then we still have grounds for a universalist interpretation. Richard Bell notes that unlike in Rom. 11:32, the context in Rom. 5 is not concerned with the question of two groups (Jews and Gentiles) but with two realities (condemnation and justification) and two representatives (Adam and Christ).[22] A second major counter-argument interprets the “all” as “all in Adam” and “all in Christ,” and thus the word “all” must be conditioned by what it means to be “in Adam” or “in Christ.” The assumed implication of this argument is that while all humanity is “in Adam,” only believers are “in Christ.” There are various strategies for arguing this point, though it is worth noting that all of them require looking at some text other than vv. 18-19. (1) The initial basis for interpreting “all” as “all in Christ” is found not in Romans but in 1 Cor. 15:22, where Paul makes a similar parallel: “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” The counter-argument of the non-universalists thus reads 1 Cor. 15:22 back into Rom. 5:18-19. The validity of this reading has been cogently rejected by MacDonald by demonstrating that “in Christ” adverbially modifies “will be made alive” rather than modifying the “all.”[23] Christ is the means by which “all” are made alive; he does not limit who will be made alive but how.

(2) A second strategy argues that justification and righteousness in Romans is dependent upon faith in Christ, and thus we must read Rom. 5:12-21 in light of, say, Rom. 4:13-25. This argument is perhaps the most popular, and its persuasiveness rests in its canonical approach and in the use of Rom. 5:17. If the universalist argument is dependent upon vv. 18-19, then the non-universalist argument depends on v. 17, where Paul speaks of “those who receive (λαμβάνοντες) the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness.” Douglas Moo in his commentary on Romans then writes:
But in the apodosis (“how much more . . .”) “the many” must be qualified by Paul’s insistence in v. 17 that only those who “receive” the gift benefit from Christ’s act. Here it refers to “a great number” of people (but not all of them) or to “all who respond to the gift of grace.”[24]
In a forum discussion on inclusivism, Scott Hafemann follows Moo by adding:
Romans 5:17 reminds us—lest we have forgotten Romans 1-4!—that righteousness and life are for those who respond to God’s grace in Christ and that they are only for those who respond. When we ask who belongs to, or is “in,” Adam and Christ respectively, Paul makes his answer clear: Every person, without exception, is “in Adam” (cf. vv. 12d-14); but only those who “receive” the gift (v. 17; those who “believe,” according to Rom. 1:16-5:11) are “in Christ.”[25]
And of course this argument is not original to contemporary American evangelicals, but has its basis in the Reformers themselves, as the Calvin quote above demonstrates. Luther also spoke of the “free gift” as “that which Christ pours out from His Father upon those who believe in Him.”[26]

Proponents of universalism generally respond in two ways. The first is a grammatical point and simply notes that the participle λαμβάνοντες[27] is being used in the passive sense of “receive” rather than the active sense of “take.”[28] According to John Murray, the “word ‘receiving’ . . . does not refer to our believing acceptance of the free gift but to our being made the recipients” of this gift.[29] A non-universalist might respond that one only receives the gift on the basis of some prior act of faith, while a universalist might respond that we need to read v. 17 in light of vv. 18-19 and not the other way around, so that the “all” is not qualified by “those who receive” but rather “those who receive” is qualified by the “all.” The second possible response by universalists is concurrence with non-universalists that only those who have faith in Christ receive justification. Talbott and MacDonald are in agreement on this point: “Paul taught that justification and life come only to believers and . . . that not all are believers. . . . Paul needs only to believe that one day all will believe,” for which MacDonald goes on to argue.[30] This argument demonstrates the close affinity between universalist and non-universalist evangelicals: both believe that salvation is only by faith—i.e., salvation is primarily an anthropological reality. The central difference is whether faith is limited between cradle and grave, or whether there is an ongoing eternal possibility for faith. The acceptance of the latter leads MacDonald to accept hell, but on a provisional basis, not unlike a version of purgatory. Talbott, for his part, reads 1 Cor. 15:23-24a as support for a three-stage progression in salvation history: (a) Christ is raised as the first fruits, (b) followed by those “who belong to Christ,” and finally (c) at “the end” Christ will raise the rest of humanity, who by then will have become believers.[31] Regardless of the merit of these proposals, all sides agree that salvation is by faith alone—by individual, human faith alone, that is.

To see the outline of the series with links to the other posts, click here.


17. Thomas Talbott, “Christ Victorious,” in Parry and Partridge, 19. It should be noted that not all agree with Talbott (or MacDonald) that justification and life is a future reality (“…will eventually be brought to justification and life…”), in the sense that for those who do not acknowledge a belief in Christ in this life still have a future ahead of them in which God’s salvation will at some point reach them as well. Richard Bell, for example, thinks that justification is a present-only reality, and so the future tense can only be a logical and not a real future (424). I will return to this argument later.

18. MacDonald, 81.

19. I. Howard Marshall, “Does the New Testament Teach Universal Salvation?” in John Colwell, ed., Called to One Hope: Perspectives on the Life to Come (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000), 20.

20. MacDonald, 81.

21. Ibid., 81-82.

22. Richard Bell, “Rom 5.18-19 and Universal Salvation,” New Testament Studies 48 (2002): 427.

23. MacDonald, 86.

24. Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 336.

25. Scott Hafemann, “Forum Discussion on Inclusivism,” in Paul R. House and Gregory A. Thornbury, Who Will Be Saved? Defending the Biblical Understanding of God, Salvation, and Evangelism (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000), 155.

26. Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, trans. William Pauck (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961), 174; commentary on Rom. 5:17.

27. Cf. Ernst Käsemann, Commentary on Romans, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 155-56: “The λαμβάνοντες are undoubtedly believers. . . . [But] it is doubtful whether one should (with Bultmann) understand the participle in terms of a decision and choice and see in Christ the possibility opened thereto (Jüngel is right). For Paul the reign of Christ replaces that of Adam. The ontological structure of his anthropology remains determined by lordship as in the old aeon. Analogy can arise between Adam and Christ only because both establish dominion over existence and the world.”

28. MacDonald, 80-81; Talbot, “Reply to my Critics,” in Parry and Partridge, 252-53; Bell, 429. See also M. Eugene Boring, “The Language of Universal Salvation in Paul,” Journal of Biblical Literature 105 (1986), 287.

29. John Murray, Epistle of Paul to the Romans, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 198. Also qtd. in Talbott, “Reply to my Critics,” in Parry and Partridge, 253. It is interesting to note also that, in commenting on v. 17, Moo translates (paraphrases?) the contested phrase: “all who respond to the gift of grace.” The word “respond” is a more active verb than “receive.” Hafemann, for his part, equates “receive” with “believe,” also a more active verb. Each author minimizes the force of Rom. 5:17-19 by introducing concepts either foreign to the text (“respond”) or found elsewhere in Romans (“believe”). A more persuasive response by a non-universalist would be to note that the verb “receive” is itself not an entirely passive verb but requires the action of openness to the Other, to what is outside oneself (extra se). This, of course, still does not rule out the universalist scope of the passage, since it is conceivable that all will receive the gift of grace. Even though Paul does emphasize the importance of faith elsewhere, it is not present in Rom. 5:12-21. Does Paul intend the reader to fill in the gaps? Or does Paul intend a distinction between faith as an anthropological reality (by faith) and faith as a christological reality?

30. MacDonald, 80.

31. Ibid., 85-86.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New poll: greatest film director

I have a new poll to find who people think is the greatest film director. Obviously, some really great directors had to be left out of the poll, but I tried to pick a fairly representative selection of the best directors of all time. All of the directors except for Coppola have passed away, and I specifically avoided directors who are still working on new films. (Coppola made it on the list because he is essentially retired.)

So what do you think? Who do you think is the best? And who did I leave off this list that you think deserves it more? (John Ford? Woody Allen? Luis Bunuel? Jean-Luc Godard? Martin Scorcese? Werner Herzog? Pedro Almodóvar? Robert Altman? Frank Capra? Wim Wenders? Walt Disney? Sergio Leone? Hayao Miyazaki?) Also, place your vote! The poll ends at 5pm on Friday, August 31.

Emo Ergo Sum?

America is a country of consumers. We live in a consumeristic society that believes in the age-old maxim: Emo ergo sum—I buy, therefore I am. In his new essay in Harvard Magazine [.pdf version], Jonathan Shaw discusses the risks of this capitalistic American dream—a dream that could easily become a nightmare (and some might say already has). He begins by writing:
Consumerism is as American as cherry pie. Plasma TVs, iPods, granite countertops: you name it, we’ll buy it. To finance the national pastime, Americans have been borrowing from abroad on an increasingly stunning scale. In 2006, the infusion of foreign cash required to close the gap between American incomes and consumption reached nearly 7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), leaving the United States with a deficit in its current account (an annual measure of capital flows to and from the rest of the world) of more than $850 billion. In other words, the quantity of goods and services that Americans consumed last year in excess of what we produced was close to the entire annual output of Brazil.
Shaw focuses on the problem of sustainability: how long can this continue? He quotes Stanford professor of international peace, Jeffry Frieden, who puts the problem in a concrete way:
The United States, for example, was “the world’s biggest debtor for a hundred years,” Frieden notes, “but the money was used to build the railroads and the canals and the factories and to improve the ports and to build our cities. It was used productively, and it worked. The question to ask now is not, ‘Is the country living beyond its means?’ The question is, ‘Is the money going to increase the productive capacity of the economy?’ Because if it just goes to getting everybody another iPod,” he warns, “then unless iPods make people more productive, there is going to be trouble down the road when the debt has to be serviced.”
While economists and politicians focus on whether this “brave new world” of globalism and consumerism run amok can last, I think it raises a whole different set of ethical-theological questions for the church. It is often quite easy for Christian pacifists to argue against war, since they aren’t on the battlefield (not that this detracts from the pacifist position). But it is not nearly so easy for American Christians to argue against consumerism, since we are all complicit in the idolatry of Stuff. In our own different ways, we conform to the maxim: Emo ergo sum.

So what do we do about it? I honestly don’t have an answer here. We certainly cannot say, “Don’t buy anything,” like we can say, “Don’t commit any violence against another person.” But what can we say? How can the church embody a communal life which witnesses to the God who gives gratuitously—the God who forgives debt and gives abundantly beyond all need or measure? How can we live in such a way that our lives expose the emptiness of “emo ergo sum”? How can our life in community embody the alternative axiom: Christus vivit ergo sum?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rules for evangelical worship

At the blog for Touchstone Magazine, S. M. Hutchens has posted “One Foundational Observation, and Six Rules” regarding evangelical liturgy and worship. Hutchens, like many, is concerned that evangelicalism is quickly becoming “difficult (in light of the Whole) to recognize as Christian,” and if change is going to occur, it must begin with worship. He states up front that the “central theological and liturgical problem” is found in the denial of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and consequently in the “abandonment of the Lord’s Table as the central locus of Christian worship.” I wholeheartedly agree with Hutchens on this point, and I can only hope that evangelicals continue to recognize more and more the profound significance of the Eucharist for Christian worship.

For the moment, however, I am more interested in the third of Hutchens’s six “rules.” While I think all six of them are essential for church leaders to read and appropriate, the third rule is particularly important to me:
3) Words to all music sung in the service must be studied and approved by pastoral authority as theologically sound, and unapologetically rejected when not, no matter how beautiful the music to which they are set, or how beloved by the congregation.
This rule is one that I have fought for over the past several years. Since evangelicals are known especially by the songs they sing in church, this rule is quite significant—particularly since most Christians never bother to think about what they are singing, nor do they want to. Some Christians will, of course, find this rule distasteful, since it makes Sunday morning worship a serious concern for rigorous theological thought rather than letting services of worship simply be times of heartfelt religious experience. Evangelicals tend to be distrustful of theology; they see worship as an occasion for the expression of personal devotion to Jesus Christ, not as something open to theological scrutiny. Whether the songs are theologically sound is not a concern to most, and some would argue that it shouldn’t be a concern at all.

Personally, I think that American evangelicals desperately need to examine the songs used in worship. Ever since the near-eclipse of hymns and the rise of the modern worship chorus, evangelical worship has steadily veered away from its theological roots. Songs today emphasize individual passion without the profound concentration upon the theological significance of the gospel evident in so many of the classic hymns and ancient liturgies. While the emerging churches are better than the Pentecostal or traditional Willow Creek-variety megachurches, I still do not see a lot of hope for the future of American evangelicalism unless this third rule is widely applied (in conjunction, of course, with careful examination of theology and the history of the church).

What do you think?
If you are part of an American evangelical church, do you know if your church leaders apply something like this rule? Are the songs examined in terms of their theology, or are they sung simply because they are popular and arouse individual passion? Is worship given serious theological attention within your church?

H/T to Douglas Knight. For more on worship from Hutchens, click here.