Psalm 25 (paraphrase by Gord Carkner)
Dear Lord, my inspiration, I know I can count on you
Don’t let dark forces of division and conflict overwhelm me
There is absolutely no shame in following you
But shame on those arrogant, deceptive and cunning liars–proud narcissists who think they are God and centre of the universe. They don’t care about anyone
Show me your mountain and I will climb up into your truth, your light and your integrity
I know I can make it with your help, even when I get tired, distracted, impatient and grumpy
OK, I’ve sown my wild oats but now I want to settle down, live under the gaze of your agape love and your amazing goodness.
Awesome, invigorating, captivating.
Thanks for being my mentor and friend; I am in process of transformation and sometimes it hurts, but I’m all in
I really want you to show me the way forward, because I’m lost on my own–hopeless really
Thanks for your eternal promises and your commitment to us and our flourishing. Your compassion just melts me
I want to step into your economy of grace because it resonates with me at a deep depth. Life is about gift and gratitude
Thanks so much for revealing your plans for my growth into wholeheartedness, and for our life-giving covenant community
I see now the brilliant story that I share with many others; meaning rises out of it and fills me up
I want to model my expectations on your will and wisdom; everything else will disappoint and trivialize life
I see now that you are the ultimate true north; everything else is relative to your infinite goodness
Life is hard sometimes and I struggle with my shame, doubts and failures
And let’s face it; some people are really hard to cope with
They really irritate me and discourage me by their bad attitudes and selfishness; they seem to want to destroy my vision of a good God
Keep me on track and help me to keep my integrity, because you are my map and hope for the future
It’s all about you, not me and my challenges, hangups and worries
Help me to stay focused and on topic, to know your empowering creativity to write a fresh outcome in this story of my life.
The Psalter is a collection of collections which was written over several/probably ten centuries. It is part of what is known as the Writings (OT/Hebrew Bible is composed of Law/Torah, Prophets and Writings/aka Wisdom Literature). Earliest thought to be composed by Moses in 1300 BCE. It is the most popular book in the Bible for Christians. It was the first book of the Bible made more available to the public by the Gutenberg Press. Often a bishop would be asked to memorize the whole of the Psalms before taking office. The Apostles were quite familiar with the Psalms. Jesus knew the Psalms well and quoted them regularly.
It is broken down into five sub-books: Psalms 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150
Types of Psalms: Petition, Prayer, Praise, Teaching, Protest, Liturgical (Temple Processions). It strikes a chord with a huge range of human emotions/the heart, motivations, conundrums, angst. These were all seen within the context of covenant.
Detail Imprecatory, Confessional, Prayers or Praise by the Individual, Prayers or Praise by the Community, Hymns of Praise for God’s greatness and mercy, Confession, Confidence in the Lord (23), Songs of Zion the City of God, Royal Psalms, Pilgrimage Songs, Didactic
Nurture of the Psalms although complex and sometimes difficult, their spiritual food has nurtured the believing church for two thousand years. It teaches a dialogue between God and the human self, a reframing of the self and society. One might call it existential theology, theology in the trenches of life. People return to these texts for hope, peace, vision, healing, correction of perspective, restoration of their faith in a sovereign God, a liturgy for repentance. These brilliant poems raise tough questions for us as well. They teach us the “way” to live in God’s light, the way of eternal life. They teach about righteousness/just living and wisdom (fear of the Lord) in contrast to wickedness, violence and narcissism.
Great Discussion on Psalm 23, a hopeful poem on God’s care and providence within covenant relationship–much promise for human flourishing.
Wonder (awe) rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge. Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel
Psalm 24, a Psalm of Ascent
This beautiful psalm was often read or sung on Ascension Day in the Church calendar. It is also appropriate to Advent when we think about an inbreaking of presence of the divine. One could read it along with the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah. The chief metaphor is the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, with perhaps the restoring of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It is cast in a procession of people coming to worship their creator. The album by Hillsong United captures the them in their piece “Welcome Zion”. This is a wonderful, super creative set of songs. The Psalm begins with creation. The temple was often seen as a microcosm of the universe. God is celebrated as Lord of Creation, then Lord of Goodness, then Lord of the believer’s life.
We are drawn into opening up the gates of our hearts to the fullness and transcendence of God. The key posture for worship during our entire lives is seeking God. We are called out of our petty concerns to the great concern to honour God with our whole lives. Morally and spiritually we need to wash up in preparation for this encounter with Truth itself. It is Lordship that makes all the difference. Durning this week, let the King of Glory flood your heart and help you see life in fresh terms. It is the transformative path, true to the ancient ways of wisdom. Allow yourself to be surprised by grace. Open the gates!
Psalm 8 Creation and Humankind Tom McLeish’s Medieval Big Bang talk at St. John’s College, UBC November 4, 2016: https://youtu.be/JFFt0kUIlWA
Tom McLeish GFCF Talk at UBC https://youtu.be/m5cmTFPCzt4
Discerning Texts: the Late Modern Self & Judeo-Christian Scripture. How do we relate ancient text to our contemporary world?
This is not a simple or straightforward reflection; it proceeds more by way of an upward spiral. It draws on the school of thought that looks at the self as text, beginning with Wilhelm Dilthey. Nietzsche also loved the language of text; perhaps to an extreme, he claimed that interpretation goes all the way down—there are no facts, only interpretations. That seems too extreme. There is a sense in which we humans are a text, that is, open for interpretation and self-interpretation. We are not reducible to mere factuality. How do we read our life experience, we the self-interpreting creatures who are obsessed with making sense of our lives? Do we not interpret ourselves as we tell our story even as we share with a colleague or a friend?Journaling is one vital way to grapple with our lives as text; amazing lessons and patterns emerge from this writing one’s life and thoughts. One PhD student filled ten large journals with his thoughts and ruminations during his program. One might challenge one’s colleagues that the un-interpreted life is not worth living (allusion to Socrates).
Drawing his line of thought from Dilthey, the brilliant English New Testament scholar and hermeneutics philosopher, Anthony Thiselton (Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self, pp. 63f), shows how the written text of Scripture interprets and shapes us. The objective pole or backdrop against which the self is interpreted, for Dilthey, is the text that is the public domain or institutions and patterns within society. For Thiselton, the Bible offers a text to mirror and encounter the text of the self. Both recognize the uniqueness of each individual self and the need for a larger context by which to illuminate the self and build one’s identity. Thiselton mentions five ways in which selfhood and self-identity reaches understanding through encounter with biblical Scripture, the interface where meaning comes alive. It is not totally under our control. We are drawn into the awe and the epiphany (discovery) of this experience through a dialectic.
A) Firstly, there is illumination of the life and selfhood (theology, perspectives, experience, character and context) of the biblical author as one attempts to interpret the text. There is indeed a genuine authorial encounter, which is a form of inter-subjectivity. We are privileged to have fellowship/dialogue with the ancients; the Apostle Paul is to some degree our interlocutor, our mentor. The horizon of the biblical author offers us a challenge to our identity; we don’t know it all nor are we necessarily the wisest people who ever lived; the ancients can teach us through dialogue from the horizon of their life context and experience of the Living Word. I am aware that Foucault and Barthes announced the death of the author, but I want to resuscitate the importance of the author. I find their views too cynical as does Kevin Vanhoozer at Wheaton College. Yes there is mediation, but the whole weight of ancient scholarship is connected to the author. It makes all the difference that we are in dialogue with Plato or Virgil, Cicero or Moses; we want to lean in and see what they have to say to us.
B) Secondly, as Word of God, the biblical text potentially has the ability to give identity and significance to the self through connecting it to the voice of the divine, the voice of its Creator. The self is animated and invigorated by being addressed by a loving God who is presence, one who approaches us and invites us to reason or dialogue. What occurs here is a naming of the self, a calling into meaningful existence in some sense; this borrows from John Searle’s speech-act theory. The Word of God through the biblical text refuses to leave us alone, to our own devices; it addresses, confronts, and challenges the reader’s and the reading community’s selfhood. The attentive, humble reader cannot get away with mere empiricist scrutiny of text as object of inquiry. The text of the self is confronted by a Transcendent Text or real presence of the divine. We have much to grapple with here; we begin by entering into a study of Scripture and suddenly the tables are turned on us and the Word of God begins to interrogate us: we do not come out of this encounter unscathed, resting in the comfort of our self-perspective.
C) Thirdly, the encounter with text is necessary to reveal (put in relief) what would otherwise remain opague or hidden in the self, including those deceptive sub-texts, or twisted motives, the shadows of the false self which theologians identify as sin. We are called out on our deceit, our games, our lack of authenticity. Thiselton employs French intellectual Paul Ricoeur with his interpretation of Freud, and Roland Barthes with his critique of mass culture and its double-layered meaning at this point. Ricoeur, while realizing a level of deception and the existence of sub-text, urges that we work with a hermeneutic of suspicion alongside a more constructive hermeneutic of retrieval (Thiselton, p. 68). It need not all be negative, but there is a definite mirror-effect. The biblical text has a way of exposing the falseness of self in ways that are often uncomfortable, however healing.Thiselton shows how this approach is compatible with the biblical vision of the deceitful heart in Jeremiah. The possibility here is to recover responsibility together with freedom under a restored relationship to norms, virtues and goods. This does the effective work of redemptive exposure of the false self with a view to liberating robust living in one’s true self for the common good.
D) Therefore, the ways in which different people interpret the Bible can reveal much more about them than the texts they interpret (their manipulative purposes or blind biases, refusal to hear). Think of how texts were manipulated by Apartheid ideology or racist superiority in some corners of the world. This is sensitive to the insights gained from reader-response theories of hermeneutics. The state of the reading or interpreting community has a lot to do with the way text is allowed to engage it, and therefore the fruitfulness of such a reading. In their midst, a lone reformer/dissident might be able to point out their reading brokenness and introduce a healthy self-critical attitude (e.g. a Mandella or Martin Luther King Jr.). One thing that happens in an interdisciplinary community like GCU is that people ask you tough questions from another discipline that you have never before imagined. As part of an interpreting community or sometimes communities plural, we need to choose our fellow readers carefully, so we don’t get in a loop of self-fulfilled, one-sided or self-deceptive interpretation.
E) Finally, most significant for Thiselton is that encounter with biblical text has the effect of transformation. This is also a major theme in his book, New Horizons in Hermeneutics. “Transforming purpose entails a hermeneutics of the self, a new understanding of self’s identity, responsibility, and future possibilities of change and growth” (Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self, p. 66). He also records the David Kelsey and Frances Young comment that “when biblical writings function as ‘Scripture’, they shape the identities of persons and transform them”. Transformation offers a much superior answer to the problems of today’s fragmented, deconstructed or de-centered, protean self. There can be the newness of self without mere radical self-determination approaches to freedom (Jean Bethke Elshtain agrees). Biblical text has a way of rethinking us, healing our false perceptions and renewing our narrative self. Bishop Lesslie Newbigin in his Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Chapter: “Bible as Universal History”), encourages us to find our home in Scripture, to so indwell the biblical story and text that it shapes our whole outlook on life, fires our imagination, and gives us fresh eyes to see the world, fresh motivation to live out its promise for life—to shape our very lifestyle within a richer textured horizon of meaning.
See also Charles Taylor’s new book: The Language Animal.
We will also draw on themes from Gord’s new book The Great Escape from Nihilism.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams writes: “What is it to be human: to be a creature, a part of the world, a moment in a pattern, dependent on others, others dependent on ourselves, called therefore to contemplation, without which there is no growth or fullness. Isolation is the refusal of humanity; and that includes the isolation of my or our needs from those of the human world. Beyond it stands the Luciferian impulse to destroy reality for my sake, the impatience with the weary burden of creatureliness. Creatureliness means never having ‘done with’ people or the world or God. It means the risk of response, decision, listening and answering, attending to a constantly shifting environment.”
More on Chapter Two
What does it mean to work out one’s salvation with fear and trembling? In part according to Paul, it means developing the mind of Christ. This is the narrative that carries the day in 2: 1-11. A quest for unity and an application of the virtue of humility within their community must be grounded in something bigger than us, something more transcendent. There is a certain trinitarian texture (dynamic) to this call to unity and reconciliation. They need each other to face the challenges in front of them and so it is an urgent call. Within the Trinity, there is a communion of love, a dynamic of tenderness and compassion, mutual submission of one anotherness. God provides the grounding for the Philippian community, the qualities of their relationships and unity of goals. Their witness is at stake, and they must deal with the toxic trinity of complaining, comparing and competing. They are called to peace as a colony of heaven within the Roman colony. They are asked to put the needs others first through self-sacrifice. This of course is counter-cultural in a Greco-Roman context where power is used as domination–a brutal, nihilistic world.
How does Jesus example of humility work for these Philippian believers? Paul articulates in Christ a two stage humiliation: a. the incarnation as he starts from scratch as a human; b. death on a Roman cross. We see what kind of God we are dealing with through the lens of Jesus’ life and teaching and attitude towards the marginalized. He shows us what it is to be truly human. Christ is the best evidence of a Christian mindset. This section is the centrepiece of the New Testament, in fact the centrepiece of the whole biblical narrative. The Jesus story ties together the whole biblical narrative and all that is anticipated; he is the suffering servant that Isaiah the prophet anticipates. He took the position of a slave (doulos) in order to reach us. He intentionally does not assert his power. God lived out a truly human life in Jesus. He reveals what it means to live in God’s image: he pours himself out for people.
The second level of humiliation is his submission to the death on a Roman cross, a punishment saved for insurrectionists and rebellious slaves. His humanity is expressed in humbling himself all the way to the cross (which is now a symbol of redemption). What is God doing in this fallen world? He is God on a cross: a divine scandal. He has humbled himself before Lord Caesar. This is God’s contradiction to human wisdom–this is foolishness to the Greeks. He is the suffering servant that accomplished what Israel could not because of corruption.
This humiliation finally ends in his exaltation as the ‘Name above all names’, unsurpassable, all sovereign (Isaiah 45: 18-24). “There is Power in the Name of Jesus” sings Kim Walker Smith “to break every chain”. Paul resonates with, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. This is a well rooted identity. As the mind of Christ is shaped in us, as he is recreating us in his image, we imitate God the suffering king We bear his image in our attitudes and relationships within Christian community and beyond. This is the deepest depths, the deepest truth, real freedom, redeeming goodness, a powerful human narrative. All we can say is “Lord I am your servant waiting for your call.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaG8EpEJxgA Kristene Dimarco Take Courage
In the three persons, there is a versatile and dynamic oneness, yet there are also roles and primary actions that proceed uniquely from Father, Son and Spirit. God the Father: God bringing everything into being and holding everything together by his word. God the Son: God entering our history, showing God in action in human terms that we can recognize, accomplishing salvation for all. God the Spirit: God present with and in us, inviting us, guiding and counselling us, wooing us into participation in all God’s ways of being God. All these operations of God are in evidence as Paul directs and accompanies us in the process of growing up in Christ. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 197)
All true beings strive to create room for more being and to expand its power in the creation of flourishing environments for variety and life, and to thrust back the chaos that limits true being. In doing so it creates other bodies and invites them into mutual creation and tending to the world, building relationships where there had been none: thus they then cooperate together in creating more power for more creation. And the process goes on.There is a kind of being that delights in sharing space and a deeper, truer being that is able to create more than enough space–room for more being. (A. Crouch, Playing God, 51)
In the resurrection the original power of creative love displaced sin and death. Sin and death, and the twin systems they create, idolatry and injustice, are already unmasked and have lost the critical battle. Creative love was always stronger and more real—and in the community of the resurrection, the first and latest followers of Jesus find that reality living, breathing and working powerfully through us. (A. Crouch, Playing God, 53)
__________________________Left to ourselves, most of what we imagine God to be and do is wrong. Nearly all of what our culture tells us that God is and does is wrong. Not dead wrong, mind you–there is an astonishing amount of truth and goodness and beauty mixed into it–but enough wrong that if we swallow it whole, we risk “sickness unto death” (Kierkegaard’s diagnosis). Revelation is a radical reorientation of reality–God reality, church reality, soul reality, resurrection reality. We require a continuously repeated immersion in the revelation of God in Scriptures and Jesus as protection against the lies of the devil. They are such affable lies: lies that smilingly seduce and distract us from the cross of Christ, lies that genially offer to show us how to depersonalize the living God into an idol customized to our use and control. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 205)
God’s word to us is essentially a call, an invitation, a welcome into his presence and action. When we respond to the call, we live a calling. The calling gives us a destination, determines what we do, shapes our behaviour, forms a coherent life. We live into the world and the relationships into which we have been called…. Vocation, calling, is a way of life, comprehensive…. God’s call and our calling fuse into church. The call and calling are the systolic and diastolic heartbeat of the body of Christ. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 169-70)
We need discernment, wisdom to parse life, to apply what we know to the nuances of our everyday existence.
Discernment (paraclesis) is conversation directed to the insights and decisions, the behaviours and practices, that emerge from hearing the preached good news and learning the truth of the Scriptures as they then get prayed and embodied in my life where I am just now. These insights are not always obvious given my emotions, history, parents, baggage from old sins, and misunderstandings accumulated from secular culture. The gospel message that seemed so simple and straightforward in the sanctuary on Sunday develops severe complications when I enter into my workplace on Monday. Our families muddy the waters that seemed so clear, outlined, and in order on a chalkboard while we were sitting in a classroom…. Paraclesis is language used with men and women who already have received the word of preached salvation and have been instructed the teaching of the law, but who are in need of comfort or encouragement or discernment in the muddled details of dailiness. It is otherwise called ‘cure of souls’ or spiritual direction…. This is the kind of language that pays attention to the way the preceding languages of preaching and teaching enter into the personal particulars of each person while in the company of brothers and sisters, strangers and neighbours…. Listening, which requires silence, is a substantial element in the language of paraclesis. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 172-3)
The Christian life involves re-understnding our entire lives and the whole world in the light of God’s revelation…. Creation and covenant map our existence, and we need to learn how to read the maps and use a compass to find our way through the territory. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 172)
Paracletic language is only credible if it is spoken from a paracletic life, a life Paul describes as “with all humility and gentleness, with gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4: 2-3) This is the path to grow up into the full stature of Christ.
The moves that Paul makes in chapter four are: Discern your fullest calling–>Discern one another within the body; build towards unity–>Discern your God, the transcendent source of all physical and spiritual life, all meaning and motivation–>Discern your gifts within the larger body of giftedness–>Discern your moral worth, authenticity and moral agency/power–>Implement the virtues, the goods, the imagination of the kingdom. It is not just about feelings. This can move your universe. Ephesians articulates, cultivates our thinking and invites us into a new dynamic of life.
How do we help people rediscover their spiritual imagination in a cynical age? Amidst secularism the ideology, disenchantment, scientism, New Atheist shrill voices, the failure of Fascism, Stalinism, Maoism, Rationalism, Consumerism? David Crowder sings, “Your love is the remedy for the sickness in my heart. Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t cure.” Indeed, what if Prayer and Faith are the deep structure of the universe? What if Christ is the core of the really real? What if we are gift all the way down? What if we could become better at living the good life, growing in maturity? What if I don’t have to continue the fakery of acting like the centre of the universe, our default setting? What if gratitude and hospitality could change things?
Matthew Crawford has some brilliant insights for us in his recent insightful book, The World Outside Your Head. He suggest that our quest for radical individualism and autonomy is leading us into a unhealthy moral autism. We are losing our moral skill and agency. Matthew calls this the ‘cult of sincerity’, i.e., that you yourself can be the source of the norms by which you justify yourself–a radical responsibility for which we were not designed. It offers too much sovereignty. He says that we actually need others (friends, family, colleagues) to check our own self-understanding–through triangulation–to tell us we are doing OK, that we are good or excellent. One thing that sets us apart as humans is our desire to justify ourselves; we never act without moral implications. We need this web of people we respect and normativity. Charles Taylor agrees (Sources of the Self).
Here’s the rub: In times of cultural flux, where it is unclear what the rules are, how to value things or behaviour, it is difficult for us to understand ourselves socially. This leads to an existential crisis. So we become victims of the values of the marketplace–productivity, performance, usefulness, cash-out value. Matthew’s friend, psychologist Alain Ehrenburg (Weariness of the Self), notes that this is leading to epidemic levels of depression in our current culture of performance. Enough is never enough:
Depression presents itself as an illness of responsibility in which the dominant feeling is that of failure. The depressed individual is unable to measure up; he is tired of having to become himself. In a culture of performance, the person reads the value and status of her soul in her worldly accomplishments.
Jesus brings us home, Jesus brings us together, Jesus breaks down hostility, Jesus creates us as a unified humanity, Jesus reconciles all of us to God. Peace is complex and many-layered. A lot of action goes into making peace–and Jesus is the action…. Church is where peace is understood comprehensively as Christ present and working among us.”
- Jesus demolishes the wall that separates insiders and outsiders, lost and homeless mean and women, aliens and strangers.
- Jesus respects us as persons.
- Jesus is our living, active peace.
- Jesus is the heart of meaning, the heart of reality.
- Love is at the heart of the Christian manifesto. It can penetrate these walls of shame and hostility.
Nothing worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr
What is the nature of the church according to this passage?
A reconciliation of the races, equality of the sexes, changed status of the poor, settling old rivalries, reconciliation of alienated friends, inclusion of the excluded people groups. See also Galatians 3: 28,29
Challenge to radical individualism: growth as an isolated self-project:
Individualism is the growth-stunting, maturity inhibiting habit od understanding growth as an isolated self-project. Individualism is self-ism with a swagger. The individualist is the person who is convinced he or she can serve God without dealing with God. This is the person who is sure he or she can love neighbours without knowing their names…. This is the person who , who having gained competence in knowing God or people or world, uses that knowledge to take charge of God or people or world. (E. Peterson, 112)
What is God up to with the church?
If we don’t know what God thinks of us and what we have to do with God, we have missed a huge part of what it means to grow up. We need to know that God is not just “deity in general” not off doing something big in the universe, remote from who we are or what we think of ourselves. God is not remote; God is present and active in us…. It is a radical redefinition of who we are in a way that is different from anyone else. we need to understand that God has to do with every part of our lives, not just the religious part. (E. Peterson, 111)
We are pulled into the actionà trajectory of church, people of God, commonwealth of tribes. Those who were once excluded (Gentiles) from grace have been included in God’s kingdom. Given gifts like Jewish believers—tremendous status boost. Refugees have become citizens with all its benefits and responsibilities. (Quote on p. 120) It is a new humanity. What makes us worthy to be included is not our merits but God’s redeeming love. This act of faith changes the world.
What are people saved from…. and to….?
The Fall meant disintegration, chaos, disconnection, depersonalization
The divine Word brought the church into existence as his body. This is essential church, his body. What does that mean to you?
- Jesus is our peace, our peacemaker, reconciler. Jesus is at the epicenter of the action called the church (Quote p. 124). He becomes our peace through an act of sacrifice. It is a work in progress, complex and strenuous.
- Jesus is hospitality (Quote p 126)
How do we work towards this peace process today on campus, in our city?
The point that carries the pivotal weight in the phenomenon of gift-giving and gift-receiving is that gift as gift remains outside the economy of production and consumption, distribution and exchange. Indeed thee gift remains radically transcendent to the determination of reciprocity within the economy of goods and services; and insofar as it does impinge upon and interact with this economy, the gift displays a surplus of significations that overflow the particulars within the cycle of putative gift exchange…. The gift is both transcendent of and immanent within the developing culture-spheres in which the human self aspires towards self-understanding. (140)
We all need grace to survive. Faith in Christ is a plunge into grace. Ephesians is riddled with the theme of grace. According to researcher Brené Brown, many people are stifled by fear and shame (the feeling that ‘I am a mistake’), causing them to retreat and shut down. Shame is highly correlated with depression, addiction, aggression, violence, bullying, suicide, and eating disorders. She became a TED Talk sensation as she exposed this chronic societal problem. Christianity offers the kind of self-honesty, security and vulnerability that is an antidote to shame, as Paul notes in the life-promoting letter to the Ephesians. Our culture worships power and human achievement, and that can make us ashamed of what we have done, our capacity. In Ephesians, we are invited on stage with God the trinity, as key players in his great drama of redemption and reconciliation, where all things are called to submit to Christ and his Lordship, and we are empowered to carry out good, meaningful work. Students are thriving on this theme of a dram articulated on a foundation of grace. It gives something of that God’s eye view on life.
The Holy Spirit, through a living covenant, brings our lives both transcendence and presence. Believers have a high calling to listen to and engage the world, not to recoil in fear, as Rowan Williams articulates in The Truce of God. We are gift from beginning to end, given gifts, represent a complexity of giftedness, we are called and chosen to use gifts to build up other lives and bring heaven to earth. As Eugene Peterson says, humans too easily slip into a denial of grace, rather than allowing their lives to be a prism for God’s light. Theologian D. Stephen Long has some profound thoughts to leave with us in this stream of thought. It is an important message for today’s late modern culture, and contains a strong challenge for Christians to engage the world with all the spiritual graces. Without love as a strong foundation, we are quite vulnerable to collapse (Ephesians 3: 14-21). Knowledge and reason alone will not sustain us.
Only on the basis of an ontology of love can gift be understood. Because love, and not pure reason, is the basic structure of being, the failure of human reason to achieve infinite desires is not negative but positive. Thus we do not need to negate reason in order to believe, but rather to supplement and intensify it. We receive knowledge as a gift.… Gift, another name for the Holy Spirit, is the fullness of being, the perfection that surrounds us with an inevitable desire for truth, goodness and beauty. It illumines our lives…. For Wittgenstein, truth is not a matter of detachment, but engagement, the kind of engagement that love entails and that requires judgments based on qualitative contrasts…. Wittgenstein’s appeal to love depends on something more akin to ‘virtue epistemology’. Love is not opposed to truth; they are both necessary virtues for knowledge. You cannot know what you do not love; you cannot love what you do not know. (D. Stephen Long, Speaking for God, 2009, 159 and 300-1)
One other source for this concept of redemptive resurrection grace is in David Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character, where he talks about Adam I and Adam II. He offers some great stories to make his point. Brooks is noticing that there have been profound changes in cultural and personal values since early twentieth century. Adam I refers to our career success, fame and self-actualization goals; Adam II refers to the deeper things of formation like virtue, character, quality of relationships and personal integrity. He suggests that today’s society is far too focused on Adam I but very weak on promoting the values of Adam II. At the end of the day, Adam II (character) is essential to good employment and family relationships and one’s contribution to the world, as we will discuss in our upcoming November 17 panel on the Future Prospects of Higher Education. Woodward 1 at 4:00 p.m.
Here’s the hinge point in Chapter 2: 1-10. Grace ushers us into good work. It is not a contest between grace and works, but a both/and situation. All work is based on God’s work in creation. We join him in his creative work as both gardeners and artists. Jesus showed a congruence between grace and all that makes the world go round (daily work). Peterson says that every good work is a potential package of divine grace, a gift. We are God’s work; we are called to good work; we are agents of grace; grace is God-giftedness (Romans 12:1-3). We grow up into grace, into the full stature of maturity in Christ. This is how our work touches base with eternity, brings heaven to earth. According to Andy Crouch (Culture Making: rediscovering our creative calling), creativity is an instrument of change, adding new goods to the world. We can make something of the world and our work takes on a higher meaning and purpose. All work is holy task if we grasp what J.Richard Middleton said about the Imago Dei. There are two main kinds of work: conservation and creativity. We need to be in touch with our cultural heritage in order to contribute in significant ways. Innovation comes out of cultivation and preservation of heritage and natural resources: art comes out of gardening or husbandry. Culture keeping leads to culture making.
The posture of the artist and the gardener have a lot in common. Both begin with contemplation, paying close attention to what is already there. The gardener looks carefully at the landscape; the existing plants, both flowers and weeds; the way the sun falls on the land. The artist regards her subject, her canvas, her paints with care to discern what she can make with them. (A. Crouch, Culture Making, 97)
How do we use our creativity, our writing, speaking, experimenting, building, designing to construct community, to promote shalom (Christopher Alexander, The Nature of Order)? How can we become observers and entrepreneurs of grace?
31 To be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.
32 Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny…. We are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity…. To work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” is a labor that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. It demands attention to reality at every moment, and great fidelity to God as he reveals himself, obscurely, in the mystery of each new situation.
33 The secret of my full identity is hidden in him. He alone can make me who I am, or rather who I will be when at last I fully begin to be. But unless I desire this identity and work to find it with him and in him, the work will never be done…. Not to accept and love and do God’s will is to refuse the fullness of my existence.
Sin: 33 To say I was born in sin is to say I came into the world with a false self. I was born in a mask. I came into existence under a sign of contradiction, being someone that I was never meant to be and therefore a denial of what I am supposed to be.
34 My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion…. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin. All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my egocentric desires, is a fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, for honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real…. The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God.… Ultimately the only way I can be myself is to become identified with him in whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence.
There is no love without contemplation, no contemplation without a mind and heart open to receive and not seeking to create its own world out of nothingness of the ego and its fantasies. Contemplation for men and women is looking and listening and being molded by what is other. It is recognizing that you are created—limited, living in time—and allowing yourself to go on being created in and by the world of things and persons in time, all of them mediating the obscure universal initiative of an uncreated action, so wholly regardless of ‘self’ that it lets the whole universe be. Creation is there because of the limitless capacity of God for contemplation—allowing the other to be, engaging with the other…. God contemplates the world out of his own freedom…. We need to live in a world constantly inviting us to contemplation, a world which will not leave us alone, feeding only on ourselves—a world which delights us and which assaults us by its strangeness, its resistance to us. And above all, a world of persons, in which we can be invited to love by finding ourselves the objects of love, where we learn contemplative attention as we are ourselves attended to. (R. Williams, 2005, 40)
It is an old habit among us, a habit subsidized by the devil, to depersonalize, to abstract, to generalize not only our language with or about God but also our language with or about one another. It is a bad habit. We avoid the personal in order to avoid responsibility. We find any way we think we can get by with to get control of God, our neighbour, or ourselves. We are relentless. We depersonalize God to an idea to be discussed. We reduce people around us to resources to be used. We define ourselves as consumers to be satisfied. The more we do it, the more we incapacitate ourselves from growing up to a maturity capable of living adult lives of love, adoration, trust and sacrifice…. In our identity-confused society, too many of us have settled for a pastiche identity composed of social security number, medical records, academic degrees, job history, and whatever fragments of genealogy we can salvage…. The Ephesians message is intended to gather us into the multifaceted, all-encompassing work of Christ in which we become whole, healthy, complete men and women. (E. Peterson, 2010, 66. 67 and 79)
Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism, 264-5)
God reveals himself in personal relationship and only in personal relationship. God is not a phenomenon to be considered. God is not a force to be used. God is not a proposition to be argued. There is nothing in or of God that is impersonal, nothing abstract, nothing imposed. And God treats us with an equivalent personal dignity. He isn’t out to impress us. He’s here to eat bread with us and receive us into his love just as we are, just where we are. ( E. Peterson, 2010, 87)
The approach is to probe into the depths of the passage in Ephesians, while drawing from other authors and scholarship that is relevant to the text at hand. There is a sense in which we ‘interrogate’ (interpret) the text and also a sense in which the text interrogates us. Your questions and thoughts are key to opening up the meaning. It works best if we come with a teachable posture with a view to discover fresh insights.
Ephesus is in the area of present day Turkey (Asia Minor). It was major city (250,000 persons), second only to Rome or Athens, at the intersection of major trade routes, with a pluralistic culture, am many different religions. The theatre would hold 24,000 people. Not that much different than Vancouver and UBC. The two major religious cults were Artemis (Diana) and the Roman Imperial cult (Caesar Augustus was seen as Son of God, warrior god of order, saviour. The calendar was remade around his birthday. See Acts 19: 23-31. Artemis was the godmother of Ephesus. The temple to Artemis was one of the seven great wonders of the world, larger than a contemporary football stadium, four times the size of the Parthenon. The city had a major market in pagan religious goods and services, many magical practices and occult.
Who is Paul the Apostle? He was a Jew, a Roman citizen, and now a key leader of the early church. He was trained under the top Rabbi of the day Gamaliel (in turn he was trained under Hillel). He was brilliant, the equivalent of a Nobel Laureate. He once was a zealous Pharisee who persecuted the church and threw people in prison for following Jesus; he literally hated Christians. A radical change came when he was blinded by a beatific vision of Jesus, an I-Thou encounter, an epiphany. Eventually he became the greatest interpreter of the life and teaching of Christ, and one of the most courageous apostles. He spent about three years preaching in Ephesus during AD 53-56. Two years later he was imprisoned (three years in Caesarea and two years in Rome.
The Letter to the Ephesians It is one of the most important letters of Paul the Apostle (from Roman prison in 62 AD) that was circulated to all the churches in the ancient world. He attempts to recalibrate/re-think reality for and with them, or expand their horizon of the grace and goodness of God, and his eternal purposes. He wants them to realize the potential of their lives as they discover their giftedness and their calling to grow up into maturity in Christ. You could say that he lays out the high goals of Christian community and the amazing resources available to human flourishing: fullness in Christ. His message is a profound one: we must realize that despite the powers that be, Jesus Christ is Lord. It is an outright power encounter with Artemis and Caesar, a deconstruction of these cults. Paul is declaring these myths broken (oppressive) and seeks to liberate the people from their power and control.
He offers them an alternative view of reality (a different social imaginary or worldview). Christ is the new Caesar, the new Artemis with a difference, he has a new temple in heaven. He rules the entire cosmos and brings heaven to earth. Transcendence has a new name and this changes everything; we live and move and have our being in Christ. He is the great gift giver, seeking to bless the whole world. He announces that we, our lives, are gift from beginning to end.
The book is balanced on a knife edge, an axios, with chapters 1-3 constituting the call of God on our lives and chapters 4-6 focusing on our response. Paul writes “Live your lives worthy (axios) of the calling you have received.” The response to calling is walking. Peterson writes, “When our walking and God’s calling are in balance, we are whole; we are living maturely, living congruently with the way God calls us into being.” And again, “The Bible is not a book to carry around and read for information on God, but a voice to listen to…. It is a word to be listened to and obeyed, a word to get us going. Fundamentally is is a call…. Call comes into our ears, beckoning us into the future, bringing us into a way of life that has never been experienced in just this way before: a promise, a new thing, a blessing, our place in the new creation, a resurrection life.”(34)
Some Questions to Dialogue across Worldviews
Sometimes it helpful to let the big name philosophers and theologians help you with the heavy lifting, people like David Bentley Hart, Alister McGrath, Charles Taylor and Alvin Plantinga. Ask God for worldview wisdom and discernment. This is what we call meta-understanding.
Could you identify and define for me the framework of your present philosophical stance? Your favorite thinker? Where do you position or locate yourself in the current plural world of convictions? What resonates with you? What influences have shaped this?
Questions regarding its coherence, unity or consistency as a view of reality. Does not work for postmoderns who celebrate contradictions, paradox and difference.
Is your view open to the data of other people’s experience or do you have your mind made up? Closed or open stance? Agnostics are more open than atheists.
Use the three major worldview frames above to probe more deeply into the details; get all the facts and insights you can.
Look for the person’s interpretive paradigm, the intellectual grid through which they sift ideas and issues (philosophical glasses). E.g. Marxism, feminism, scientific materialism, environmentalism, nihilism, New Age, Yoga, or some form of liberation. This reveals what Charles Taylor calls their hypergood or dominant value. It is vital for you to understand this core dominating and controlling good in your friend.
Ask the questions of the livability and relevance of their view: the Pragmatic Life Test. How does it improve human life or solve human problems, promote more justice or hope, feed the poor, heal racial relations, help with global warming? Does it have power to promote the common good? How far can the assumptions be taken without promoting evil or destructive consequences?
Are you happy with your present views or are you shopping around for something better? People have emotions around their cherished beliefs, so tread carefully. They also get bored sometimes when their worldview no longer answers their questions, or the data of their experience does not fit.
Intrigue or redirect to get conversation unstuck: Could you define the God you do not believe in? Were you brought up an atheist or did you arrive at that logically over time; are you convinced of the hope that atheism offers the world? Are they a naïve or reflective atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.? Many people need to be encouraged to slow down and think about their life and its trajectory.
Key Posture: the pursuit of full knowledge, a more robust story or one might even explore the need for a whole new human narrative (Jeremy Rifkin) beyond individualism, greed, violence, and aggressive behavior. Why rule out the supernatural when it inspires so many billions of people? Naturalism often lacks explanatory power and is self-contradictory: David Bentley Hart The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss; Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos; Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.
Dr. Don Page’s Tested and Proven Servant-Empowered Leadership
- Serves the followers for their benefit. Invest in people for their growth.
- Primarily serves the interests of the followers above selfish or narcissistic interests.
- Responsibility to followers is more important than positional entitlements.
- Based on respect and love for the followers. Maintained through internal influence.
- Willing to step aside for someone more qualified to lead. The position is held lightly.
- Never pulls rank to get one’s own way, as that would be hurtful to the colleagues.
- Accountable to everyone in the organization and outside constituencies as well. Concerned about the common good, not just individual good.
- Welcomes regular personal evaluations as a means of improving the ability to serve followers. This kind of vulnerability speaks volumes.
- Loyalty comes through the inspiration in the heart and soul of the followers. Have a low turnover rate because people are valued for their contribution to each other and to the organization.
- Primary interest is in the well-being of their followers for their sakes. People on your team are seen as an end in themselves, not just a means.
- Puts the spotlight on others. Servant leaders are generous with praise to others but not shrill.
See also Simon Sinek, Good Leaders Make you Feel Safehttps://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_why_good_leaders_make_you_feel_safe?language=en
Ten Things to Remember as a Growing Leader: Success is 90% Character, Virtue and Integrity
Take a Risk Once in Awhile: Sometimes you need to take a ‘leap’ of faith. Don’t make a habit of diving into the deep end without thinking, but a few calculated risks can reap major benefits; they can be strategic. If your trajectory is sound, the risk can be worthwhile as well. Assess the risks wisely with other trusted colleagues. There are good and also foolish risks.
Be Comfortable with Yourself and Your Vision: Take the time Write out your Manifesto Every successful person has experienced a time when they felt completely inadequate, lonely, without any support and without much confidence. Live within your skin and your narrative; think about what you can uniquely contribute to solve problems or make a better world. The more you believe in yourself and what you stand for (values), the more others will be able to see and understand your point of view and get excited about your project. Step into your domain and rally others. See for inspiration the book Unstoppable.
Learn to Adapt and Recalibrate: No one entirely likes being outside their comfort zone. Instead of giving into fear or panic, adjust to a changing environment, changing opportunities or changing relationships. Show the boss or others in your workspace that you are flexible and adaptable–a team player. This is an incredibly powerful skill to have as things keep changing faster in our world.
Welcome Change as a Stimulus to Your Imagination: Change not only keeps us on our toes, but it also allows us to learn, grow and discover new things. Change for change’s sake is not healthy. Some traditions are worth keeping, and some methods are worth perfecting. Continuity in narrative is likely to be positive and build momentum. Being in reconcialition with and appreciation of one’s history is important to personal fortitude and endurance.
Learn from Mistakes: Don’t make a habit of committing the same ones over and over. Instead of dwelling on/obsessing over your errors, learn from them and make the lessons part of your mental furniture. Boil them down to their essenceand re-invent them as opportunity for growth.
Focus on the Future: If you need to make something right with a friend or co-workrer, by all means do so. But keep your energies and attention hard focused on the future hope/potential. Learn from history, but you can have a bigger impact on things going forward. Avoid distractions by trivial matters; they can grind you down.
Be Patient with Results: Good outcomes don’t happen magically overnight with minimal effort. If you want to achieve great things, then you need to invest time and lots of effort. Build your vision brick by brick and one day you will say, “Look at that, a house, a centre for community service, my vision in the flesh.” Good things eventually come to those who understand the importance of patience and endurance, and even longsuffering. This is hard for people raised on instant results from search engines.
Celebrate the Good Work of Others: You are contributing to moral capital and the common good. Highlighting someone else’s good work can put yours in perspective. You look less jealous or petty and get on with approaching your goals; let them inspire you. This is a kind of social lubrication.
Focus on the Things Within Your Theatre of Influence: Don’t worry about what others are not doing well. A focus on laziness, cheating or evil can be depressing. That’s their concern unless you are mentoring or supervising them. Drill down into your concerns; build your bridges; gather your troops/colleagues to move things forward. Depth brings results and high quality discipline.
Fight Hard for that Good Goal: If you believe in something, be willing to fight for it, to hang in there when others have quit. Obstacles and challenges always arise in everything worthwhile. There are times of course when you need to move on and give up on a bad idea or one that no one resonates with. Sometimes however you are on the cusp of a breakthrough just when you feel that nothing is moving forward (negative activation energy state). Some have taken months or years to convince others of their perspective or great idea. This loops back to believing in your Manifesto.
II Corinthians 12 and II Peter 1 Virtue Beckons Us
This week we are studied the Seven Capital Virtues to respond to Paul’s worry that the believers might be misbehaving (taking on a dark attitude in his absence) in last part of II Corinthians 12. The Apostle Peter in II Peter 1 also talks about such virtues. Try having a conversation with your colleagues about the seven deadly sins or seven capital virtues. Perhaps they have seen them played out in film or in a friend. Mark Buchanan, a Canadian pastor and author tries to recover this discussion for today in his book: In Plain Sight: the Secret of More. He also speaks of it on a YouTube series.
This list of seven virtues is a set of virtues which are to counter the temptation to succumb to the seven capital sins. For this reason, they are sometimes also called the seven contrary virtues; they represent the opposite of the seven sins.
The list of seven capital virtues stems from the subject matter of an epic poem written by an early Christian poet, Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, at the end of the 4th century. The poem, Psychomachia (meaning Battle of Souls), is an allegory which describes seven virtues defeating seven vices. One could also add to the list of virtues: faith, hope and love.
The seven contrary or capital virtues:
Humility – Humility is the virtue that counters pride. As pride leads to other sin, true humility clears a path for holiness. Pride is a sin based on undue and inappropriate appreciation of one’s self worth. Conversely, the virtue of humility is about modest behavior, selflessness and the giving of respect.
Liberality – Liberality, or generosity, is the virtue that is counter to greed – the sin of immoderate desire for earthly things. The virtue of liberality is focused not merely on the appropriate concern regarding one’s earthly things, but furthermore on generosity and a willingness to give, freely and without request for commendation.
Chastity – Chastity is the counter-virtue to the sin of lust. Chastity embraces moral wholesomeness and purity, and in both thought and action treats God’s gift of sexuality with due reverence and respect.
Meekness – Meekness, or patience, is the virtue that counters the sin of unjust anger, also called wrath or rage. Where the sin of wrath is about quick temper and unnecessary vengeance, the virtue of meekness focuses on patiently seeking appropriate resolution to conflicts, and on the ability to forgive and show mercy.
Temperance – The virtue of temperance or abstinence counters the sin of gluttony. To be gluttonous is to over-indulge. On the opposite hand, the virtue of temperance is centered on self-control and moderation.
Kindness – Kindness, or brotherly love or love for one’s neighbor, is the virtue which counters the sin of envy. Envy, in contradiction to God’s law of love, is manifest in a person’s sorrow and distress over the good fortune of another person. Conversely, kindness and brotherly love is manifest in the unprejudiced, compassionate and charitable concern for others.
Diligence – Diligence, or persistence, is the virtue which acts as a counter to the sin of sloth. Sloth, as a capital sin, refers to laziness in matters of Faith. Diligence in matters of the spiritual combat laziness and this virtue is manifest in appropriately zealous attitudes toward living and sharing the Faith.
Seven Deadly Sins: lead to all sorts of other human problems
Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise (C.S. Lewis). Pride is also known as Vanity.
Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, possessions or situation.
Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires. Not just food. It lacks self-limits.
Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.
Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.
Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.
Seven deadly sins get us stuck spiritually taking us away from God and the good; they are a relational and moral dead end. They are far too often appealed to in advertising.
Recovery of the Virtues and the Virtuous Community
The language of virtues is quite underplayed in contemporary academia, but you can find it if you look more deeply. This arena of discipleship includes character formation as per II Peter 1: 3-8; Philippians 4. The Apostle Paul adjures us to pursue the power of virtue ordained by the Holy Spirit whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable. Biblical discourse of ethics includes both the virtues and directives on how to live well and faithfully. Brilliance is great, but not sufficient, for the good life; there is a big need for moral will and moral skill. We need to celebrate our moral exemplars and develop a robust understanding of virtue. Make this a learning curve for you as you grow academically.
The C.S. Lewis Summer Institute in Cambridge and Oxford during July 2014 focused on the theme: Recovering the Virtues for Human Flourishing. Indeed we should see virtue as a humanizing, civilizing influence. Here are some of the talks for free http://www.cslewis.org/?utm_source=E- Chronicles+October+23%2C+2014&utm_campaign=October23+E- Chronicles&utm_medium=email
The conference has captured something quite vital as an arena for exploration, discovery and impact for the church. It is also provocative for moral development across the board.
We see a robust recovery of virtue ethics within academia. Ian Brooks just finished a doctorate in the field within philosophy at UBC and now teaches in moral philosophy sessionally at UBC and SFU. See also super scholar David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University who recovers this discourse in medieval studies. The emphasis on character formation these days emerges in business leadership (Henry Cloud, Integrity).
Is virtue being taught at a serious level in churches? Do we highlight character and the virtues as a strength to be promoted? If we do not, we are missing a major countercultural opportunity of spiritual life and witness. Do we just assume it is being caught by osmosis? That is only partly true. Good resources for further discussion are found in: Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue. Stephen Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth. Other resources on the intellectual virtues include Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation; Linda Zagzebski, Virtues of the Mind.
The Virtuous Community This may sound like a strange concept, but there is an urgent concern given the crisis of civility and threats of violence in the West and around the world at the moment. Churches have an opportunity to lead by example: building moral capital and enhancing the plausibility conditions for faith, justice and non-violence within society at large, helping curb fundamentalist religious radicalization. When violence is celebrated as heroic, we are all in trouble. The Catholic Church has traditionally carried the strongest flame for the virtuous community, especially in the many monastic movements; Pope Francis is placing virtue and compassion for the poor up front in his platform. Protestants have also regained an interest and a stake in the discussion.
Civil Rights Activist Martin Luther King Jr. regularly heralded the concept of the beloved community as a key pillar of his inclusive, non-violent vision. It is a concept that can be recovered for the good of the church, as we see in the new monasticism movement where young Christians build community in a poor section of town (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good). This arena of formation offers a strategic cutting edge of witness to a cynical culture which is struggling with dishonesty, greed, gossip, cheating and incivility.
Notre Dame History Professor Brad Gregory (The Unintended Reformation) articulated the vital importance of this issue for me in recent years and showed how human rights discourse could recover a more holistic context within the virtues. Jim Wallis’ notable 2014 book The (Un)Common Good: how the gospel brings hope to a world divided also gives a rich discussion of a robust kingdom heritage in Jesus teaching. See a recent blog of inspiring quotes from this book at ubcgcu.org.
When we speak of virtues, we are speaking of those rooted in Trinitarian communion, over against a Stoic approach of individualistic secular self-management. James Houston speaks of this in his The Mentored Life. There is a parallel discussion that occurs in Charles Taylor’s recovery of the good (Sources of the Self). There is a very wealthy resource here that remains untapped by many clergy, churches and Christians at large.
Among the Greeks, both Plato and Aristotle believed in virtue. Medieval theologian Thomas Acquinas produced a fusion of Augustine and Aristotle. It is a rich discourse worth exploring within your discipline. Ask questions in class about virtue. Character development is a good place to start; many people resonate with that even if they have no background in the virtue conversation.
Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism, 2012, pp. 264-5)
The Christian concept of love is based not on the nature of human beings but on the nature of God. God’s love tells us what love really is. (I John 4)
Agape is a prophetic love. It refuses to equate anyone with his immediate observable being. A human being is not deeply and essentially the same as the one who is visible to the employer, neighbour, salesman, policeman, judge, friend or spouse. A human being is destined to live in eternity and is fully known only to God. (Glenn Tinder, The Political Meaning of Christianity, p. 25)
Agape is about the spiritual destiny of the individual; destiny is a spiritual drama. My destiny is my own selfhood given by God, but given not as an established reality, like a rock or a hill, but as a task lying under divine imperative…. Agape is simply the affirmation of this paradox and of this destiny underlying it. Agape looks beyond all marks of fallenness, all traits by which people are judged and ranked, and acknowledges the glory each person—as envisioned in Christian faith—gains from the creative mercy of God. It sets aside the most astute worldly judgment in behalf of destiny. (Ibid., p. 28)
The process of mutual scrutiny is vain, and even the most objective judgements of other people are fiundamentally false. Agape arises from a realization of this and is therefore expressed in a refusal to judge. (Luke 6)
Agape exceeds the bounds of reciprocity; it cannot be defined in terms of prescriptions for self-realization or self-interest alone. In this love, we find the self involved in a transcendence of the strong variety. But when this grace disappears, coercion, contempt and terror sometimes flow in to take its place. (Gord Carkner)
Four Stages of Love: Bernard of Clairvaux
1. We love God for our own sake–carnal love or psychic automatism. It is an acceptable start because of our human frailty, but not the final goal of the spiritual life. We can even love our neighbour or boyfriend carnally. It can be anxious and insecure.
2. Loving God for our own sake in order to learn what one can and cannot do by oneself (wisdom). We see that only God can help us in some circumstances. This offers the sense of being carried by God’s love.
3. We begin to love God for his own sake because we become more aware of God’s selfless love, his infinite goodness (Psalms 90-100). Thereby, we can love our neighbour selflessly. We are enticed by this pure love (Psalm 117:1). We are drawn by the beauty and holiness of God (God’s suavitas). It is combined with the desire to be in communion with God (worship). It can be quite thrilling and deeply moving.
4. Loving ourselves as God loves us. This is a sheer gift of God’s grace, and nothing we can produce on our own effort. This love will mostly be tasted in eternity. This is the experience of being friends with God, coheirs with Christ. Perhaps martyrs taste a bit of this.
This is the love we long for down in the deepest part of our being (heart). You can see the movement as steps upward into maturity, as our identity shifts from a self focus to a God focus and agape love. Charles Taylor notes that one of the fundamental human desires is to be embraced. The pursuit of God, who is communion of love, is the quest for life itself (I John 4). It is foundational to human community, identity and wholeness.
Side Note on Biblical Hermeneutics (Anthony Thiselton)
1. We investigate, examine words, text, narrative, characters, poetry, historical-cultural context, author’s intention (to the best of our ability). This is the scholarly, documentary, linguistic side of the equation on route to discover the meaning of the text, the power of the text.
2. Scripture in turn investigates us by means of the Holy Spirit–shining a light into our deepest selves, searching our motives in deep places. There is a mirror effect when we read Scripture. It exposes our subtext and calls us to honesty, integrity and accountability, calls us to grow up, to deal with our messes, our self-deceptions. It is to be acted upon once we discover what it means for us.
3. Scripture exposes false representations in culture and the lies we as a society tell to ourselves over and over, false motivations that corrupts us, willfulness that alienates us from God. It offers an alternative human narrative to individualism, greed, narcissism, violence and war–one of empathy, one anotherness, compassion, responsibility and love for neighbour, both local and international.
4. The reading and study of Scripture is transformative and life-changing; it can even change our worldview (social imaginary) or how we see everything, how we discern reality, or understand ourselves. It can be quite captivating, riveting, engaging us at our depths. It teaches us how to love.
5. Scripture also exposes the heart of God and offers a narrative of promising, unrelenting, passionate love for each human being. This is a redemptive, suffering love, the only substantial hope of freedom. He wants us to be transparent, step down from our pride and come home. Kierkegaard called the Bible a “love letter” with life-giving qualities. At its core, it is a love story with the Triune God of grace as the key actor.
6. The Bible offers a gripping hermeneutic on the human condition–a realism about human foibles mixed with the vision of a better world, a beloved community and thicker, more substantial selves. It articulates a horizon that shows us that faith matters to the solution of all human aspirations, problems and concerns.
7. At the end of the day, the Bible points to Christ, the living Word. He is the Way. We abide in him and in his teaching. His story is the pinnacle, the apogee of Scripture.
The Ecology/Economy of Grace (Gift)
Grace (charis) begins and ends with God. It is in super-abundant supply if we know how to access it and channel it to others, to invest it in others for the common good. Then they can pay it forward to still more persons in need or persons underdeveloped in their potential. It is there in creation, in providence, in salvation, in social change, in the eternal weight of glory. Jim Wallis writes: “The greatest challenge to us in a world of injustice and a culture of cynicism is how to hang on to belief in a better world that would change this one” (The (Un)Common Good, p 39). What does this mean on the ground? First it means treating other people as our neighbour. It involves building bridges, healing relationships, binding wounds, bringing hope amidst despair, empowering the weak, even loving our enemies to bring peace. It is the restoration of all things, a paradigm shift in the cosmos and the human community (Romans 8): persons, relationships, institutions, power sharing, care for the environment/biosphere.
In the 18th and 19th century British and American revivals, converts were immediately signed up to join the slave abolitionist movement, thus showing them that God has an interest in changing society and dealing with injustices of their time. In late twentieth century South Africa, many converts were immediately signed up to fight Apartheid. Wallis claims that “the journey to faith goes through the lives of the poor” if we read Matthew 25 with an open mind. We are indeed judged on how we deal with the least of these. The top 1% of the global population control 50% of the wealth. 500 companies account for one third of the entire GDP of the planet. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing very fast these days, producing plutocrats and terrible grinding poverty. Some CEOs make 500 times their average employee. Where is the justice in all that? Good news to the poor is central to Jesus’ Nazareth Manifesto. We dare not ignore it if we call him Lord. The Occupy Wall Street Movement had it largely right about corruption in the financial industry: something’s terribly out of balance. A public trust was broken.
Jesus is on the side of the poor and the marginalized: the shivering, blind, hungry and homeless. This is where you will find Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier. We will never run out of resources if we follow his mandate of generosity. God will fill in the gaps in his economy of grace empowering our generosity. II Kings 4:1-7 speaks of a poor widow who never ran out of oil because she gave to the prophet Elisha. We must handle our possessions lightly. God loved the whole world so much, that he gave and gave and gave again… This is the ecology of his grace. We are our neighbour’s keeper. How do we treat the people on campus as neighbour?
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/video-the-story-of-the-co_b_3015687.html Jim Wallis on the Common Good
Further: What if we imagined that our very life itself is a gift? What a different outlook. What if our calling is to mobilize and cultivate our giftedness by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps our potential is much greater than we think. In Chapter 9 verses 6 to 15, Paul encourages a generosity that is robust and full of life (pregnant), that produces fruit that acts as a thank offering to God. There is a tapestry of the dynamics of grace, gift, goodness, gospel, community, love, thanksgiving, joy. Paul ends on a high note: no one can outlive or out-give God; his is the superlative gift of life through the Son. Ann Voskamp gets this concept that generosity and thanksgiving is at the heart of the gospel. The measuring cup of generosity that we use to dish out grace to others will be the same size as the one used by God to grace our lives; stinginess is not a mark of the kingdom. It is about goodness, gratitude, giving, grafting ourselves into the vine of divine life-giving love. In fact, it is essential to democracy: a good democracy needs good people, i.e. it is dependent on a tradition of virtue (John Milbank). Civil society springs from the spirit of generosity and mutual respect: valuing one another as a common possession and responsibility. See Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good. In the same light, secular humanism is a fantasy, an abstraction that leads to moral collapse: we need so much more than freedom of choice. Science was never meant to be a worldview, a structure of meaning. The Market has no soul; GDP has no soul; Free Trade has no soul. Economics requires a moral framework in order to be just, fair and equitable. Currently capital markets are quite vulnerable to a few oligarchs (Chrystia Freeland, The Plutocrats), which have dispossessed the middle class and the poor. When a powerful elite Fortune 500 companies control one third of global GDP, we are all in troubled waters. The 2008 Great Recession showed just how dangerous and destructive their greedy, risky and reckless behaviour could be. There is no sense of honour and responsibility in such extreme and unhealthy concentration of wealth. What happens when the invisible hand lets go of the common good? In Adam Smith’s book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he notes that capitalism cannot function properly without a moral framework. The World Economic Forum is now calling for a “moral economy”.
Jim Wallis notes: “Here is the road to a new moral economy: from massive inequality to decent equality; from the narrow definition of shareholders to a broader vision of stakeholders; from short-term to long-term thinking and acting; from the ethics of endless growth to the ethics of sustainability; from doing well to also doing good; and from broken social contracts to a new social covenant between citizens, business and government…. Let’s look at what it would mean to start moving toward a more moral economy that could enhance rather than undermine the common good.” (The (Un)Common Good, p. 201)
See the following websites on the vision of the common good: 350.org; Avaaz; Sojo.net
The Late Bishop Lesslie Newbigin Insights
Should we actually be asking ‘How shall we be saved?’ or in fact ‘How should God be glorified?’ Clearly God is to be glorified as we act out his calling to generosity which we see articulated in the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6). It is a calibre of generosity that does not come easily to us: love your enemies, treat well those who despise you, go the extra mile when someone coerces you into the first one of bearing their burdens. When we declare that Jesus is Lord, this is a response to a deep transformative calling on our lives. This generosity is a contribution to a human tapestry of grace, one rooted in the communion of love within the Trinity. We worship a Jesus-shaped God of suffering love. There is not greater certitude for humans than what God has done in and through Jesus Christ. The resurrection is a singularity, a unique and world-shaking, precedent-setting event which can be derived from nothing previous. It changes everything; it is a new start, a new arche. The biblical narrative offers a fresh way of thinking and seeing ourselves and reality, a new human narrative; we are continuing to exegete culture by it today, employing its heuristic power. This is a gift to humanity as a whole body; the Jesus story is a universal story. It must not be trivialized, as it reveals divine genius.
II Corinthians 8: Generosity, Stewardship, Empathy, Equality, Sharing, Justice Between Rich & Poor, Building Community, Greeks Helping Jews, a Super Generous God.
Paul holds up the Macedonians (northern Greeks) as a model of generosity in helping with the Jerusalem Collection for a famine in the mid to late 40s. They gave even though persecuted and relatively poor themselves. They gave willingly, sacrificially, considering it a privilege, knowing it built koinonia (fellowship) and solidarity in the whole church. This escape from Nihilism here is by means of solidarity with others in need during a crisis–a contribution to the flourishing of the other. Paul takes the risk of challenging the Corinthians in a friendly competition with the Macedonians, i.e. in taking responsibility for the public communal good. In the back of his mind, he is demonstrating to the Jerusalem Apostles that these converts from the Gentiles are real Christians as shown by their compassion, and the modelling of their lives after Christ. Paul takes two chapters to show that generosity is at the very heart of the gospel. His argument is to provide tremendous incentives to the Corinthians for completing their pledge, incentives which are endemic to who they are in Christ. It is not a guilt trip. We also talked about how hard it is today to give a gift genuinely from a perspective of transcendence (Calvin Shrag, The Self After Postmodernity). A true Christian gift is one the transcends the normal parameters of exchange and barter. Transcendence is a position of radical alterity.
The point that carries the pivotal weight in the phenomenon of gift-giving and gift-receiving is that gift as gift remains outside, external to, the economy of production and consumption, distribution and exchange. Indeed, the gift remains radically transcendent to the determination of reciprocity within the economy of goods and services; and insofar as it does impinge upon and interact with this economy, the gift displays a surplus of significations that overflow the particulars within the cycle of putative gift exchange…. The gift is outside the economy, both economy in the narrower sense of monetary management and in the broader sense of motivating forces and requirements of exchange in the culture-speheres of scientific, artistic, ethic-moral, and religious-institutional endeavours…. The gift is both transcendent to and immanent within the developing culture-spheres in which the human self aspires towards a self-understanding. (Calvin Schrag, The Self After Postmodernity, p. 140)
In speaking of Kiekegaard’s vision in Works of Love, of a caritas that expects no reimbursement, with a character that is paradoxical, Schrag writes:
The love at issue here, which works itself out in the loving of one’s neighbour as oneself, is a love that finds its ultimate motivation and efficacy in a love that is freely given; a love that loves for the sake of loving; a nonpossessive love; a love that loves in spite of being unrequited; a love that expects nothing in return. The working of such a love is that which most poignantly tells the story of the profile of the self in transcendence. (Schrag, Ibid., p. 141)
In II Corinthians 8, charis (gift) means several different things: spiritual endowment, divine enablement, a monetary gift, a human privilege, a word of gratitude, and divine favour or good will. Grace is a multivalent concept in this chapter. God has enabled the Macedonians to financially assist destitute Christians in Judea whom they did not personally know; they are part of an empathic group, a larger family. This was rooted in their common faith and identity in Christ. Even though they are poor, they consider it a privilege to give. The communion of love within the Trinity is transferred to human community, making it super-natural.
The Holy Spirit, a member of the Christian Trinity, is a key mediation, inspiration and transformation factor in human goodness, human actualization and communication of divine goodness. The Holy Spirit offers a divine-human interface. Marquette theologian D. Stephen Long (The Goodness of God, 2001) is optimistic about the human quest for the good for this reason. He believes that with the Holy Spirit, moral self-constitution can be intimately and fruitfully related to the infinite goodness of God, that God and agape love can become part of the moral horizon that informs and shapes the self towards its highest flourishing—in fact to take it to a new level. He is optimistic that this will rejuvenate ethics once again and give new vision and inspiration to moral life. Moral relativism and primal choice philosophy lead to cynicism and nihilism. But this is not the only alternative for enlightened minds facing a complex world. The Holy Spirit offers a reconstitution of both goodness and freedom for contemporary identity with surprising results. One’s liberation in late modernity can be into theses higher moral dimensions and richer moral horizon. It opens up the field of human potential.
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote of this in his idea of the circulation of grace. Long speaks of this grace.
The Holy Spirit infuses a goodness into us that makes us better than we know we are by ourselves. This better is what theologians mean by grace. People find themselves caught up in a journey that results in the cultivation of gifts and beatitudes they did not know were possible. They discover that this journey was possible only through friendship … The mission of the Holy Spirit is to move us towards the charity that defines the relationship between the Father and the Son, a charity so full that it is thoroughly one and yet cannot be contained within a single origin or between an original and a copy, but always, eternally, exceeds that relationship into another. The Holy Spirit is that relationship. (D. S. Long, 2001, pp. 302-3)
Divine goodness is made available as a gift by means of the Holy Spirit for the transformation of the self. The Holy Spirit offers relationship and empowerment towards being, doing and promoting the good. This is the foundation of Christian generosity. Amazingly, humans can in turn become entrepreneurs of divine goodness by being intentionally, proactively open to this larger moral horizon of the divine, infinite good. Here lies the possibility of discovery of intense meaning and purpose in human existence and distinct possibilities for opening doors to a new level of human flourishing. It can also fire the imagination of scholarship within moral philosophy. Take note of Glenn Tinder’s fine work (2000), The Political Meaning of Christianity: an Interpretation. where he applies agape love to a political vision of rights, dignity and responsibilities of citizens. He encourages a prophetic stance similar to that of the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 8.
The Holy Spirit is central to the moral life and common life, because he gifts individuals for works that they cannot or will not achieve in their own autonomous power (even with the highest ideals of human communality, benevolence, or generosity). It occurs within the limits of their own resources, accentuating those resources and producing a calling. He equips them to be capable of forgiveness, reconciliation and loving generosity in an agape sense.
The Holy Spirit as part of the Trinity enriches and empowers the self as the unrelenting, abundant and fecund source of all human goodness. He helps the individual transcend biology and personal survival instincts. This infinite divine goodness can be tapped to make a better society and world; it offers real influence in the here and now, time-space-energy-matter-social-economic-political world. This both underwrites and holds accountable the human good and human claims to the good; it grounds and sources the good in the dynamic goodness of a trinitarian God (where mutuality is an endemic characteristic). It contains a heuristic quality: encouraging a person to learn, discover, understand, or solve certain problems. This provides both inspiration and a call to grow up into this goodness, into a new identity in Christ by means of the Holy Spirit (Eugene Peterson, 2010, Practice Resurrection).
Study Group on January 15
Below are some thought provoking quotes from a profound book, The (Un)Common Good by Jim Wallis and some thoughts from our II Corinthians 7 study last night:
18 People are made for family, community and human flourishing, not for consumerism, materialism, addiction and empty overwork.
37 We are looking for moral clarity, mental sharpness, and emotional maturity in our responses to a steady assault of outside messages on our lives.
39 The pilgrimage of our lives is learning to apply the kingdom to the biggest and most consequential of social and political events, the most personal and closest of our relationships, and to daily interactions with colleagues, coworkers, neighbours and complete strangers.
Paying Attention:48 To be able to feel the pain of the world is to participate in the very heart of God. The compassionate response of God’s people to human suffering is one of their defining characteristics.
https://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_on_the_empathic_civilization TED Talk by Jeremy Rifkin on the Empathic Civilisation
II Corinthians 5: 11-21
Last Thursday we enjoyed discussing the last half of II Corinthians 5 on the art/commission/ministry of reconciliation/peace-making. Think the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chapters 5-7). This commission is grounded in three or four key conditions (i.e. rests upon pillars of grace): a. Fear-Love-Energy of God and for God and respect for his high calling–which includes the realization that people are in a better state of being when in a positive relationship with God and one another; his love brings new life in us and shakes us loose from our cynicism and complacency; b. Awareness that we are on level ground with everyone else–broken and in need of healing (aka sinners), with no room for presumption, superiority or triumphalism; c. We have experienced the life-giving impact of the new creation, the resurrection life; we are learning to practice resurrection (Eugene Peterson) not defeatism, and see our lives and other people from God’s perspective–this changes our entire outlook, offering a fresh paradigm of awareness; d. We join God in the great task of reconciling the world to himself as his ambassadors (representatives) of the best news people could ever discover–delivering hope and meaning to the core of their identity and being. It is a message of incredible grace that leads to eternal results of character development. It is a task which shapes the future. We easily experience the limitations of our humanity, but this commission, mobilized by agape love, powered by forgiveness, puts us in touch with divinity. Paul is saying that we are not to live for survival, as mere humans. This says something new about what it means to flourish as humans; we are encouraged to step up into this new identity, this communion of love. The New Testament lures us with the message of being in Christ. Grace. Growth. Gratitude. Glory. Gift. Generosity. Metaphors that move mountains.
Thought Experiment: The Leverage of Love II Corinthinas 5: 14, 17 “For Christ’s love compels us…. If anyone is in Christ, a new creation has emerged.”
“What’s new?”, we often ask one another. What if love is more central, more fundamental than reason, more fundamental than matter and time? What if agape love, divine love is something we can leverage to shape the world, heal the planet, to change our relationships, to get past frustrating barriers, to solve the big problems? What if the fundamentals are not cosmos, nebulae and galaxies, matter and energy, time, space, gravity, strong and weak forces and motion, protons and electrons, but rather love, joy, peace and goodness, I-Thou relationship, purity and unity of the inner self, benevolence towards others? What if we were meant to cooperate rather than compete? What if the heart is more important than the brain?
Only on the basis of an ontology of love can gift be understood. Because love, and not pure reason, is the basic structure of being, the failure of human reason to achieve infinite desires is not negative but positive. Thus we do not need to negate reason in order to believe, but rather to supplement and intensify it. We receive knowledge as a gift. … Gift, another name for the Holy Spirit, is the fullness of being, the perfection that surrounds us with an inevitable desire for truth, goodness and beauty. It illumines our lives. (Marquette Theologian D. Stephen. Long, Speaking of God. 2009, p. 159)
Agape love is a boon for people of many religious and ideological backgrounds, for atheists, agnostics and nihilists as well as believers. God will show up for those who stop their cynical rant and attend more carefully to his positive gestures and initiatives. Then the investigation will go through a radical recalibration; the data that was thrown out will be re-examined for its merits, its signification. The paradigm may shift; the way that we attend to the details makes all the difference. His agape love directed at the human conscience is an invitational call to an existential depth; late moderns will be capable of experiencing disclosure in the midst of transformation. Loyola Philosopher Paul K. Moser calls this kardiatheology. Agape offers an enlightening grace that shines divine light on inner depths and motivations. Here’s the critical question: “Are we sincerely attending to the divine call via conscience and experienced agape in a way that leads us humbly before the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus?” This involves a refraction of light received through a different prism to produce new insight (Bernard Lonergan). A new picture, a new creation, emerges, a fresh motivation captivates us. We don’t need more stuff, more wealth, more war; we need more connectedness, more compassion, more solidarity.
Love is stronger, more powerful than death. It was love that sent Jesus of Nazareth to his death on a Roman cross and love that raised him to life again. In God’s presence, there is no fear/terror of death (Psalm 23). According to Joseph Loconte (The Searchers), Harry Potter, “the most successful work of fiction in modern times draws it narrative strength from the Christian idea of sacrificial love–love unto death–can rescue people from the grip of evil, even from death itself. It is clear in the New Testament gospel stories that people believed that Jesus had the antidote to death. Eugene Peterson (Practice Resurrection) claims that “the practice of resurrection is not an attack on the world of death: it is a nonviolent embrace of life in the country of death. It is an open invitation to eternity in time.” Jesus’ resurrection is a new creation, a new revelation, an epiphany. For centuries scores of religions and cultures have longed for such a insight into the human condition. Life with God, eternal life, is now possible for those who seek it; it is a public fact.
NYC Historian Dr. Loconte continues, “If the Christian story is true, then human life has a meaning and a destination. Its purpose is concentrated in a single individual, acting in a definitive moment in time. His triumph over evil and death is the focal point of world history. Even more, his victory signals the end of history, the beginning of the end of a world in the grip of spiritual slavery.” (Ezekiel 34: 27). He is the author of life.
Within the zone of agape there is self-respect, forgiveness, dignity for outsiders, protection for victims, reconciliation with one’s deepest identity, compassion for the poor and marginalized and personal moral growth. This is the constitutive good which can empower the moral self, a self that emerges most robustly within a community of mutuality. I can win a Nobel Prize, but if I lack love, there is a huge existential hole at the centre of my personhood. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13: 4-7). It is the way of healing, hope and maturity for the human condition. Trinitarian love offers the self a certain stance towards our sociality, a stance of insight and leverage, a rediscovery of the amazing imago dei (image of God), which is articulated by Christ in real time.
Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor captures this insight in one of his books, A Catholic Modernity?.
Our being in the image of God is also our standing among others in the stream of love, which is that facet of God’s life we try to grasp, very inadequately, in speaking of the Trinity. Now it makes a whole lot of difference whether you think this kind of love is a possibility for us humans. I think it is, but only to the extent that we open ourselves up to God, which means in fact, overstepping the limits set by [nihilists such as] Nietzsche and Foucault. (C. Taylor, 1999, p. 35)
Yes indeed as Paul verifies, Christ’s love empowers us, gives us life, makes us new, redirects our desires, comforts us in our troubles, puts our lives in perspective, sets us free, gives us depth of field in our vision. Albert Einstein claims that imagination often carries more weight than knowledge. C.S. Lewis writes about the new heaven and new earth, a place where longings are fulfilled, sorrows are forgotten and joy runs like a river in every human heart, where the hidden God can be seen face to face. in Mere Christianity,
God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on his side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else–something it never entered your head to conceive–comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to chose your side. (Mere Christianity, p. 65)
Imagine how we can leverage that on campus.
Psalms 27: 13,14 “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord
On the Leverage of Love, there is much to be learned from the documentary called “I Am” by Tom Shadyac, some things that took a concusion to realize.
In II Corinthians 5: 1-10 Paul reflects on death and what comes after. His cultural context is Greek and dualistic (souls trapped in bodies), but Paul is Hebrew-Christian and promotes the imagination and practice of resurrection, resurrected new bodies in a renewed culture. He sees death as a portal to a more permanent world, a new city, in the very presence of Christ, fullness of life and meaning. This is one of the most researched and discussed/debated passages in the entire New Testament. It is connected to I Corinthians 15. He encourages believers to live in light of eternity. Everything in their life matters; nothing is wasted; they are right now being shaped and shaping their destiny.
II Corinthians 4: The Eternal Weight of Glory
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zg-1yM6insA David Crowder Band
Our discussion centred around Paul’s conclusion that the longing for eternity (Peter Kreeft, Heaven: the heart’s deepest longing) and the weight of glory put into perspective our all too human trials, frustrations, assignments, exams and sufferings. The glory far outweighs the trials, by an exponential factor. In fact, it was suggested that Paul mean to say that these trials and afflictions could move us towards this glory if we handled them in the right way, and gave them over to God for his transformation. As II Corinthians 3 concluded, it is promised that we can be transformed daily from glory to glory.
This is part of the meaning of suffering. The human trials are often heavy and hard to bear, but they are lightweights compared with the heavyweight eternity. The perspective of a vision of eternity in the heart (like the sun on the horizon, or the harvest moon) can help build ‘spiritual muscle’: realism. It is a kind f haunting. Many of the speakers in the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute series speak of the weightiness and substance and strength of the virtues; they believe that virtues of courage, justice, mercy, duty, honour, prudence , faith, friendship, loyalty, hope and love are heavyweights for human flourishing. Our assurance of this weightiness in the New Covenant is the glory in the very face of Jesus Christ. He is that promise incarnate. We have the privilege to carry such precious jewels as the gospel of glory (presence, transcendence, transformation) in jars of clay. Even Parisian semiotic professor Julia Kristeva suggests we need to recover this perspective (The Incredible Need to Believe. 2011). The challenge is to wager on the great, well-trodden eternal path with glory as our trajectory for life; it is the way of joy that is a deep longing in every heart. This story is played out in Joseph Loconte’s brilliant little book The Searchers: the Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt. In speaking about the difficulty of finding immediate answers to our grief and sorrow, Loconte writes: “There is a promise of something far better–if we do not give up the search for goodness in the valley of our grief.”
This is contrasted with the values of people in the Spanish television series Grand Hotel (English subtitles), where the game amidst aristocratic elegance is arrogance, dark secrets, will to power, greed, condescension, murder, adultery, corruption, mutual manipulation, and coercion. Why do we find such drama so intriguing? It is perhaps because it resonates with our trying experience of some people we live, study or work with, share a lab bench with, but these relationships are not praiseworthy. They represent humanity at its worst, spiralling ever downward to greater depths. Jung would call this our dark side. The gospel claims that we have a choice as to which path we want to follow.
“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” ~C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
“I announce to you redemption. Behold I make all things new. Behold I do what cannot be done. I restore the years that the locusts and the worms have eaten. I restore the years which you have drooped away upon your crutches and in your wheelchair. I restore the symphonies and the operas which your deaf ears have never heard, and the snowy massive which you eyes have never seen, and the freedom lost to you through plunder, and the identity lost to you through calumny and the failure of justice; and I restore the good which your foolish mistakes have cheated you of. And I bring you to the Love of which all other loves speak, the Love which is joy and beauty, and which you have sought in a thousand streets, and for which you have wept and clawed your pillow.”
“How I want to see the weight of glory break my thick scales, the weight of glory smash the chains of my desperate materialism, split the numbing shell of deadening entertainment, bust up the ice of catatonic hearts”
“If there is a Bach, there is a God. All the hauntings seem to come from the same source and point back to it, however diverse the media through which they come. Not only faces, romantic love, pictures, stories, and music, but also the sense of almost unimaginably remote lands hinted at in the smell of certain breezes, the fascination that children have with colour (remember that?), the unforgettable power in certain lines of poetry–all these and thousands more are hauntings that seem today the same thing. There is something bigger than the world out there hiding behind everything in the world, and our chief joy is with it. The world is its mask; we must unmask it. We are outsiders, aliens, exiles; if only we could get in!”
~ Peter Kreeft, Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing, (p. 111)
II Corinthians 3: Talking Points
What does it mean to be the ‘aroma of Christ’ as Paul talks about it late in Chapter 2? Someone mentioned Tim Keller’s book, The Art of Forgetfulness to help us discern an appropriate kind of humility.
As we traverse between the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, the metaphors change from stone tablets to human hearts, from letter to Spirit, from a trap to a liberation, from Moses to Paul, from a veiled to revealed status. The theme of transformation through the New is fleshed out in Romans chapter 8 as well as other places. The key verse here is 18. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The Old was good while it lasted, but now we have the New, the fuller, clearer revelation, justification and sanctification. The aroma of Christ comes through reflection and personal transformation. Bishop Lesslie Newbign says that the most important religious question is: How shall we glorify God?
Interesting Details about The Great Wall of China: over 1600 miles long over mountainous terrain (equivalent from New York City to Denver, Colorado), cost equivalent of $360 Billion Dollars and cost one million lives, the largest such engineering project in history specially nurtured by the Ming Dynasty, the resilient mortar has a secret ingredient of sticky rice; offered China an unprecedented period of peace; Mongolian Genghis Khan and his warriors were let through the wall by starving neglected soldiers and proceeded to sack the capital; now an international heritage site. In the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, God accomplished something far greater.
In II Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus is the Yes and the Amen to it all. What does this mean? Below are some reflections from our Study Group. Much more could be added.
http://www.christian.org.uk/news/christ-unique-and-universal-5/ Bishop Lesslie Newbigin Christ as Unique and Universal
- Colossians 1: 15-20 speaks of Jesus as the source and “glue” of creation and the purpose or end of creation. He is more than 13.8 billion light years of time. He is above all things in creation and at the same time the ground of creation (the ground of being). All the fullness of God dwells in him (he is God with us–Emmanuel). He is God incarnate (fully God and fully man); in him, God’s eternity connects with creation’s temporality. It is through Christ that all things are reconciled to God—providing the source and basis of healing relationships divine and human, the prince (champion) of peace. He is the cornerstone or foundation of the church, through which he is present to the world.
- He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Israel, etc.) and prophets of the Old Testament, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the promise of redemption, renewal, justice and reform. Jesus is prophet, priest and king. His is the final priestly sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He is also a poet, firing the imagination with his life-giving, inspiring teaching.
- He is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the nexus of faith and reason. As logos (John 1), he is the divine word made flesh, the underwriter/guarantor of all human thought and all language. He is the raison d’etre of it all, the meaning of it all, the answer to the key question: Why is there something rather than nothing? We are called to take captive all thought to his Lordship, his oversight. He is the end point of every spiritual, moral and philosophical aspiration. He has renewed and healed the current broken relationship between word and world (James Davison Hunter).
Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, 2012a, pp. 264-5)
- He is the complete human, a fullness of humanity. He is a gift to us to direct our passions to that which can fulfill them. He came to take us higher, to show us the infinite goodness and agape love of God and to transform us by it. He is the renewed, most excellent representative of God on earth, the imago dei.
- Jesus is perlocutionary speech act, God’s most powerful communication to human ears. He addresses us, calls our name, calls us forward into an adventuresome life. His words (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) are a culture driver. Through him, we have been identified and called into a new community, given a new identity as royal priests (I Peter) and the people of God. He is the hermeneutic of a new reconciled humanity, drawn from all the nations of the globe, committed to bless (shalom). He is our home, our shelter/refuge, our anchor.
- He is the Suffering Servant who empathizes with our human struggles, brokenness, alienation and pain, the Wounded Healer (Henri Nouwen). He has suffered and does suffer for individuals, society and the world (I Peter); it is a redemptive, deeply meaningful suffering. He is Compassion.
In Christian theology, Jesus reveals to us not only who God is but also what it means to be truly human. This true humanity is not something we achieve on our own; it comes to us as a gift … The reception of this gift contains an ineliminable element of mystery that will always require faith. Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection and ongoing presence in the church and through the Holy Spirit … orders us towards God. He directs our passions and desires towards that which can finally fulfill them and bring us happiness … [and] reveal to us what it means to be human. (D.S. Long, 2001, pp. 106-7)
Other metaphors: the Vine, Root of David, Teacher, Shield, Son of Man, Lion of Judah, the Way, Portion, Lamb of God, Refiner, the Bridegroom, Saviour, Rock of Ages, Presence of God, Alpha and Omega, Son of God
We welcome you to listen to the Hillsong album called “Zion” to experience these thoughts as worship
Recommended Reading: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
David Wesley, His Love Never Fails
Greetings GCU Book Study Fans,
The 2010 Christianity Today Award Winner is God is Great, God is Good. (ed. Craig & Meister). It truly is a winner, with a super scholarly team behind it. We are due to learn so much together from this community reading and discussion. It offers a great spark to our thinking and dialogue. Other sources responding to New Atheism: David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian revolution and its fashionable enemies.; Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion.; Terry Eagleton (Literary Critic), Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009)
Archbishop Rowan Williams in dialogue with Richard Dawkins: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9102740/Richard-Dawkins-I-cant-be-sure-God-does-not-exist.html
Insights Along the Journey of Our Study/Discussion
Chapter Eleven “Recognizing Divine Revelation” by Charles Taliaferro
How are we to understand how God could write a message to humanity through mere mortals ove thousands of years? What are the human and divine elements at work? How do we trust writings that are 2000 years old or more?
Interview with Dr Craig Evans, Acadia University Bible 101 (Apologetics Canada Conference 2014 speakers) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_D_7z5xvyX8
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2cx9iVCbwU Dr. Evans on Jesus & the Gospels Apologetics 315
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reYBCz_kf1c Dr. William Lane Craig on Credibility of Ancient Text
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59RnvejNwKA Dr. John Dickson (scholar)
See also the blog post Can We Trust the Bible? https://ubcgcu.org/2013/12/03/can-we-trust-the-bible/
Chapter Ten “How Could God Create Hell?” by Asbury Philosopher Jerry Walls
The classic question raised by most atheists today is: “How can evil and suffering be compatible with a Good God of perfect love and power?” Hell is that question pumped up on steroids. This is one of those existentially central issues; we may wish to avoid it, but should not do so if we are wise. It is not a superficial question, but connects to the deepest meaning in our lives. You may recall Dante’s depiction (see James Houston’s brilliant insights in Joyful Exiles) or that in the sculpture by famous Auguste Rodin. Perhaps you have read about C.S. Lewis’ famous bus ride from hell to heaven in The Great Divorce, or you have watched the DVD video discussing this topic called “Hellbound?”.
We also recommend the profound statement on the mirror image of hell, Heaven: the heart’s deepest longing. (Ignatius) by philosopher Peter Kreeft. Here’s a quote: “We must become little children, for only a little child is strong enough to open the greatest gate, the gate of the Kingdom of heaven. That gate is the heart, and who can open your heart like a child? The child in us is called by three names: faith (trust and openness), hope (idealism and wonder) and love (adoration, yea-saying). These are the terribly vulnerable things.” (p. 40)
Kreeft about Divine Hauntings (p. 111) “Not only faces, romantic love, pictures, stories, and music, but the sense of unimaginably remote lands hinted at in the smell of certain breezes, the fascination children have with colors, the unforgettable power of certain lines of poetry–all these and thousands more hauntings that seem to say the same thing: There is something bigger than the world out there hiding behind everything in the world, and our chief joy is with it. The world is its mask; we must unmask it. We are outsiders, aliens, exiles; if only we could get in!”
-the central image in Walls’ answer to this difficult question is that of the dance: God is a fountain of happiness, a pulsating activity, a drama, a dance, a fountain of energy and beauty at the heart of reality…. He is perfect love, and joy, and truth, and beauty, and goodness. (160)
-God wants us to enter the fountain of energy and beauty at the centre of reality; he wants us to join the dance of joy that energizes the three persons of the Trinity; but we have to freely choose it; the heartrending reality is that we may not choose to obey and thereby close ourselves off from this life-giving relationship.
-when God created beings with free will, he created the possibility of hell. Rather than embrace the opportunity to dance, some might choose to reject the offer and attempt to construct their own substitute for joy. If these choices are made and persisted in, then the possibility of hell becomes a reality. In short, hell is created when free beings abuse the God-given freedom to reject him and his grace. They are turning away from the highest form of goodness, the most powerful life-giving force, the highest artistic inspiration, their own greatest good. Ann Voskamp would say, “They refuse to say thanks for all this.”
-Learning to love and trust and obey God is what we need to do to be at home with God in the divine dance of the Trinity. It is precisely in submission to his will that we discover our true identity, freedom and experience the delight and pleasure and satisfaction for which we were created. Hell it may be said is the long-term result of refusing to learn the dance steps. C.S. Lewis notes profoundly that the “doors of hell are locked on the inside”. (See the play by Jean Paul Sartre, “No Exit” for the existential dilemma we create for ourselves). God has gone to very great lengths to extend his love (incarnation and crucifixion), but he will not override our freedom; he wants us to freely accept his love, and freely to return love to him. This is a wonderful and profound mystery.
-It is our persistent choice to resist this offer of love that builds up the walls of hell, locks its doors shut and encloses its inhabitants in their self-created suffering. We could call it a consequential self-banishment from God’s presence and creative energy. It is not a logical or intelligible choice. In one sense, it is a failure to choose well, an irrational move. Self-will, pride and misguided desires lead us to refuse the eternal dance. This kind of choice offers its own distorted imitations for joy, pleasure, righteousness and satisfaction.
The tragedy in C.S. Lewis’ depiction of the imaginary bus ride of hell inhabitants to heaven (The Great Divorce), is that they all choose to go back to hell where they feel more at home with the character whom they have become.
Chapter Nine “Are Old Testament Laws Evil?” by Philosopher Paul Copan
The charges made by the New Atheists are a distorted representation of Old Testament ethics. They fail to consider issues such as the earliest creational ideals (Gen 1-2), the warm moral ethos of the Old Testament, the context of the ancient Near East, the broader biblical canon and the metaphysical context to undergird objective morality. The unfolding story moves from wandering clan to theocratic nation to monarchy to afflicted remnant and post-exilic community of promise.
-moral codes and Torah’s legal material are consistently entwined with story, embedded in a broader historical narrative in order to show how they can be practically lived in society…. God ultimately instructs Israel not by laying down laws or principles but by telling stories of real people as they relate to their Creator and Covenant Maker.
-New Atheists ignore many moral, noble actions of the biblical characters: Abraham’s generosity to Lot, Joseph’s moral integrity, David’s refusal to kill King Saul, Nathan’s courage to confront David. We are also confronted in biblical characters with our own dark side of vices: anger, lust, ambition, and disloyalty; biblical characters are flawed like us.
-the Mosaic legislation is not the final word, but a springboard for moral progress anticipated. It affirms the Genesis ideals of the image of God in each person (regardless of gender, ethnicity or social class), life-long monogamous marriage and God’s concern for the nations. God starts with his people where they are (Goldingay) and moves towards a progressive revelation, a progressive shaping of his people. The trajectory is a journey of liberation to fuller humanity within covenant protection.
-Hebrew morality was far superior to that of their neighbours in the ancient Near East. e.g. Hammurabi Code
-Delicate Holy War Discussion: pp. 145-148 Copan provides fresh ways of thinking about this issue. Israel’s history is not to be idealized or universalized. I seem to remember that Dr. Iain Provan had some great responses to this question. Perhaps his new book Seriously Dangerous Religion is worth the read.
-Law of Moses: meant to be temporary rather than ultimate, finding its fulfillment in the new covenant in Jesus Christ (pp. 149-151).
1. Mosaic legislation is not to be equated with the moral law. It is quite an improvement on the other laws of the ancient Near East.
2. Mosaic law reveals God’s forbearance because of human stubbornness.
3. Mosaic law is an improved, more humanized legislation which attempts to restrain and control an inferior moral mindset.
4. Mosaic law contains seeds for moral growth, offering glimmers of light pointing to a higher moral path. God’s goal is ultimately love for him and other people: We see a ‘compassionate drift’ in the law which includes protection of the weak, especially those who lacked the natural protection of family and land (namely widows, orphans, Levites, immigrants and resident aliens); justice for the poor, impartiality in the courts; generosity at harvest time, and in general economic life; respect for persons and property, even of an enemy; sensitivity to the dignity even of the debtor; special care for strangers and immigrants; considerate treatment of the disabled; prompt payment of wages earned by a hired labor; sensitivity over articles taken in pledge; consideration for people in early marriage, or in bereavement; even care for animals domestic and wild, and for fruit trees.” (p. 151 taken from Christopher Wright). Paul notes in Romans 13: 8-10 that love is the ultimate goal of the law, the ultimate fulfilment of the law.
5. Mosaic law contains an inherent planned obsolescence, which is to be fulfilled in Christ. The law isn’t the final word, but the new covenant is promised (book of Hebrews). Christ is the new Israel.
-the New Atheists resist the notion of Yahweh’s rightful prerogatives over humans; they seem uncomfortable with the idea of judgment or cosmic authority. They have a hangup with divine authority, but need to get over it.
-Despite historical deviation from Jesus’ teaching (Crusades, Inquisition, Witch Trials) biblical theism has historically served as a moral compass for Western civilization’s advances. Rene Girard makes a huge point of this in his book I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning, where he note how Judaism and then Christianity defended the innocence of the victim unlike many other tribes and nations of their day.
See also: Christopher J.H. Wright. Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. (IVP, 2004); and Gordon Wenham, Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically. (Baker Academic, 2004)
Paul Copan’s Talk: “Is God a Moral Monster?” http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=paul%20copan%20is%20god%20a%20moral%20monster&sm=1
Bypass the cheeky puns and he gets into some good material.
Chapter Eight “Is Religion Evil?” by the brilliant and balanced Alister McGrath (also has a PhD in Biochemistry)
-Dawkins and Dennett et al view of religion turns out to be an article of faith, a belief which can be sustained only by highly selective use of evidence and what comes closer to a manipulation of history.
-core belief/declaration of New Atheism is that religion is the cause of the ills of humanity. It is a revision of the idea of original sin.
-but there is no such universal category as ‘religion’ but many worldviews and philosophies (e.g. Confuscianism); the real problem as Richard Wentz points out is absolutism: people create absolutes out of fear of their own limitations, and they react with violence when others won’t accept them–fanaticism. [Of course there is also propaganda such as in European Nazism–simplistic answers to complex social problems.]
-New Atheism is a superb example of a modern metanarrative–a totalizing view of things, locked into a worldview of Enlightenment naturalism. It can come across as intolerant, unimaginative and disconnected from the way real people live.
-Dawkins et al overclaim in a hyperbolic way that atheism is innocent of motivating violence. They are dead wrong on this point; they have their head in an atheist ivory tower or firmly placed in the sand.
-Robert Page (Dying to Win: the strategic logic of suicide terrorism) : surveys of every known suicide bombing since 1980 indicates that religious belief does not appear to be either a necessary or a sufficient condition to create suicide bombers. The fundamental motivation for suicide bombings appears to be political, not religious–the desire to force the withdrawal of foreign occupying forces. Scott Atran at University of Michigan suggests that elimination of religion is not the answer, but rather the need to empower religious moderates.
-Jesus of Nazareth showed a fundamental commitment to peace, not violence, and instilled this in his followers. The Crusades showed a perversion of this commitment to peace making.
-one doesn’t have to look far back in history to find atheist collusion with violence against scores of people: Soviet Union, Pol Pot, right wing regimes in Latin America. (pp. 126-8) Dawkins, Dennett and Harris seem to be living in a small box of their own creation (denial)–unquestioning faith in the universal goodness of atheism.
“The reality of the situation is that human beings [of all sorts and cultures] are capable of both violence and moral excellence–and that both these may be provoked by worldviews, whether religious or otherwise.” When a society rejects the idea of God, it tends to transcendentalize alternatives–e.g. liberty or equality. Think the French Revolution and the idolization or worship of reason and liberty. The guillotine was the liberator. All ideals–divine, transcendent, human or invented–are capable of being abused. Such is human nature.
The simplistic belief that the elimination of religion would lead to the ending of violence, social tension or discrimination is thus sociologically naive. It fails to take account of the way in which human beings create values and norms, and make sense of their identity and their surroundings.
The New Atheists have attempted to produce an in-group, the ‘brights’ who accept no religion. This attempt was fundamentally divisive and arrogant. It was a public relations disaster.
Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society has a fairer analysis: “For every one of these grand tragedies there are ten thousand acts of personal kindness and social good that go unreported…. Religion like all social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot be reduced to an unambiguous good or evil” (How We Believe: science, skepticism and the search for God p. 71)
David Bentley Hart has much to say about the weak and inadequate scholarship of the New Atheist who often reduce themselves to shrill rhetoric without good evidence for their position. (Atheist Delusions: the Christian revolution and its fashionable enemies.)
Chapter Seven “God, Evil and Morality” Chad Meister, Philosopher
-everyone must provide an answer to (account of) the problem of evil. The view of the New Atheists is riddled with confusion and contradiction.
-if objective evil exists, there must be objective moral values binding on all
-we need a metaphysical grounding to objective moral values, but most moral philosophers have given up on such moral foundations
-New Atheists want a world with moral reality and objectivity; they deny moral relativism, but have no sound justification for this view
-can we be good without God? Yes, but what is the basis for justification of such epistemic beliefs? Many moral philosophers have given up the search for a moral theory and justification.
-Dawkins (Selfish Gene) tries to root Good Samaritan instincts/impulse in biology (reciprocal altruism). His answers have little to do with what we normally call morality.
-Michael Ruse & E.O. Wilson believe more consistently with unguided evolution that morality is an illusion, a trick by our genes to get us to cooperate; this is a misfiring (see also for consistent reasoning Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos). To these authors, morality cannot be grounded in terms of naturalistic biological evolution. See also Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.
Chad Meister: “The attempt to offer a view of morality in which good and evil are not ultimately illusory on the one hand, and yet are not grounded in a transcendent reality on the other hand, is perhaps the most confused characteristic of the writings of Dawkins and the New Atheists…. What they cannot do, from within their atheistic worldview, is provide a reasonable justification for existence of non-subjective, universally binding moral values such as compassion, dignity and respect or moral vices such as evil and injustice. For that task, they would need to include God in their inventory of what exists.” (117)
They ultimately fail to distinguish humans from animals.
Chapter Four “God and Physics” by John Polkinghorne
-every worldview involves a commitment to a foundational belief, which is not itself to be explained but which will provide the basis on which all subsequent forms of explanation will ultimately have to rest. No worldview can be free from such an initial commitment, for nothing comes from nothing. Materialism and theism are two traditions that have been highly influencial in the West.
-the laws of nature, as modern physics has discovered them to be, have a character which is not self-contianed but rather seems to point beyond them to the need for a further and deeper level of intelligibility. Albert Einstein once said that the only mystery of the universe is that it is comprehensible.
-Why is it the case that some of the most beautiful patterns that the mathematicians can dream up in the minds are found actually to occur in the structure of the physical world around us?
-science has found that the universe is profoundly rationally transparent and beautiful. The feeling of wonder at the marvelous order of the world is a fundamental experience in physics and a fitting reward for all the labour involved in research. In a word, one could not say that physics explores a universe that is hot through with signs of mind. Thus the laws of ohysics seem to point beyond themselves, calling for an explanation of why they have this rational character. It is intellectually unsatisfying simply to treat them as brute fact.
-the deep intelligibility of the cosmos can itself be made intelligible if behind its marvelous order is indeed the mind of its Creator. The theist can say that science is possible precisely because the universe is a creation and scientists are creatures made in the image of their Creator, the God whose role is not simply to initiate the big bang but continuously to hold in being a world endowed with wonderful rational structure. Materialism just does not explain enough.
A Finely-Tuned Universe: Carbon-based life can evolve only in a universe that has a remarkably specific character. While life did not apear on the cosmos scene until the universe was about ten billion years old, fine-tuning meant that the cosmos was pregnant with the potentiality of life essentially from the big bang onward. The heavy elements were given birth in the furnaces of stars. We are people of stardust, made up of the ashes of dead stars. Even the highly nuanced resonance within carbon atoms are essential for life (Fred Hoyle). If the laws of nuclear physics were a little different, this resonance would not be there at all or it would be at the wrong energy. Other necessary conditions of this process destined for life include the balance between the rate of expansion in the universe, the balance between the forces of electromagnetism and gravity. There are any other delicate balances contributing to this fine-tuning of the universe–something of a discovery which came as a surprise to all physicists and a shock to some. See also the brilliant 2009 Gifford Lectures by Alister McGrath published as A Fine-Tuned Universe: the search for God in science and theology.
-the collection of anthropic insights seem altogether too remarkable to and precise to be treated as a happy accident. it seems to point beyond the brute fact of physical law and require to be set in a context of deeper intelligibility.
As Arizona Physicist Paul Davies might say, “Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. The crucial point is that some of those metaphorical knobs (of which there are 40) must be tuned very precisely, or the universe would be sterile. Example: neutrons are just a tad heavier than protons. If it were the other way around, atoms couldn’t exist, because all the protons in the universe would have decayed into neutrons shortly after the big bang. No protons, then no atomic nucleus and no atoms. No atoms, no chemistry, no life.”
Determinism/Mechanism Issue: The first quarter of the twentieth century raised serious questions about determinism with the discoveries of relativity and quantum theory. Space and time were found to be intimately interrelated and their description to e dependant on the motion of the observer, while subatomic processes were found to be cloudy and fitful in their character. Mere mechanism had died with the discovery of intrinsic unpredictabitilites resent in the processes of nature. Unpreditability is an epistemic property; it implies that we cannot know what future behaviour will be. Chaos theory also added to this sense of unpredictability; even at the classical Newtonian world was not free of intrinsic unpredictability. Thus human intentional agency is viable; we are not a product of determinism or behaviourism.
-Nature it seems rebels against a crass reductionism: even the sub-atomic world cannot be treated atomistically. The theist who is a trintiarian will not be surprised to learn that created reality is relational. Quantum theory has contributed to a growing recognition that nature is deeply relational. Once two quantum entities have interacted with each other, they can retain a power of mutual influence that is not diminished by spatial separation.
Chapter Three “Evidence of a Morally Perfect God”: Paul K. Moser of Loyola University
Philosophy raises some really pertinent questions about the current approach to the debate on the evidence for God’s existence, that is a God worth worshipping, a morally superior God.
Are we willing to consider a morally demanding definition of God as part of our quest for the elusive divine?
Are we looking for God in all the wrong places: i.e. does our bias blind us so that we miss the personal moral challenge of belief in, or discovery of, God? Is our methodology and approach all wrong, off base?
Will we let God to be God in order to discover him? Or will we continue the fallacious spectator evidence approach, treating him like a lab rat or a mere object in the world, or a clown that must perform for us? Perhaps we are caught in the grips of an idol and desire too much control in the search for the very ground of our being. Our pride causes intellectual blockage.
Are we willing to consider purposively available evidence of divine reality, including his good, benevolent purposes for humanity?
What if our inquiry went beyond mere reflection and inference, to human obedience and disobedience? How would that change the situation of our search. God seems to hide from certain approaches and attitudes. What if there is no magic cognitive bullet available?
What is the available Authoritative and Invitational evidence, if we change our posture and investigative approach? This is what Moser calls kardiatheology: a new disposition of the core of our thinking, willing, deciding, the core of the self. Agape love comes into the picture.
What if God would be perfectly loving even in offering to humans any divine self-manifestation and corresponding evidence of divine reality?
How might one’s lacking evidence of divine reality then concern primarily one’s own moral character and attitudes before God rather than the actual availability of such evidence?
ChapterTwo Further thoughts on worldviews: J.P. Moreland examines the merits of the naturalistic or materialistic worldview. He elaborates some recalcitrant facts that call into question the consistency and coherence of this perspective or stance, and show it to be a weak explanatory hypothesis. He claims that the language of emergence is not an explanation. He quotes a number of honest atheists who see these problems as well.
- Human Consciousness (see also David Bentley Hart brilliant treatment of this subject in The Experience of God)
- Free will or the ability to choose spontaneously and even in spite of the pressures in another direction (Agency).
- Human Rationality: can this emerge from material forces alone? How do we trust our own thoughts if we are merely the product of brute nature?
- Unified Selves (where does the “I” come from and how do I transcend my biology?) This seems inexplicable through material causes alone.
- Intrinsic Equal Value and Rights of each human no matter their status, race, gender, etc. Without the existence of God, how do we find a stable grounding for ethics?
We had a great start in our book study (God is Great; God is Good), beginning to build the foundations of a creative and positive apologia. We realized that it was important to understand worldviews, especially the three main ones: Naturalism, Pantheism and Christian Theism. It is always better if we can understand where our colleagues are locating themselves spiritually or philosophically, their personal framework. The first order of business is to ask a lot of questions like an investigative journalist, before we share our particular faith convictions.
Secondly, we saw that there was a variety of streams in Apologetics: philosophical (cosmological, moral, teleological, ontological), historical (resurrection evidence, documents of Scripture), pragmatic (liveability), personal religious experience (relevance), agape love argument, consistency/coherence. So there is a lot to draw on in terms of resources, and a real latitude of possible dialogue. The chapter by William Lane Craig offered a philosophical approach and we just began to crack that open. Usually a scholar focuses in one area to get very good at it, drill down into its wealth, debate well and present well. Each of us can start with what we know and build on that—to create a learning curve.
Finally, we chatted about the need for an explanation for our wonderful and challenging world: Lebnitz’ famous question ‘Why is there something and not nothing?’ Every human has to grapple with this reality. There are many other such fundamental questions that face all of us. More great investigation to come in the weeks ahead.
William Lane Craig opens the book in chapter one and deals with Richard Dawkins’ treatment of the arguments for God. He demonstrates that the main arguments from The God Delusion are poorly formulated and outright inadequate. In particular, Craig deals with what Dawkins calls the main argument of his book – the “who designed the designer” objection. Among other things, Craig points out that: “In order to recognize an explanation as the best, you don’t need to be able to explain the explanation. In fact, such a requirement would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed.”1In chapter two, J.P. Moreland deals with The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism. He explains that atheism and/or naturalism cannot give an account for five particular (and crucially important) features of human persons, what Moreland calls the “five recalcitrant features of the image of God.” These five are consciousness and the mental, free will, rationality, unified selves, and intrinsic, equal value and rights. He concludes that “given the epistemological and Grand Story constraints placed on the scientific naturalist ontology, not a single one of these five fits naturally in a non-ad-hoc way.”2 Like much of Moreland’s work, it is profound and fascinating; a mere listing of his five points does no justice to the depth of content he provides for each.Paul Moser contributes the third chapter dealing with the hiddenness of God, entitled:Evidence of a Morally Perfect God. Like many of the chapters in the book, this chapter could be called a condensed version of the main points of this author’s most recent work. For Moser, the is his notable The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology. Moser’s theme is to show that a morally perfect God would present evidence for his existence that aligns with his own purposes for redemption, what Moser calls “purposively available evidence of divine reality.” Included in this concept is the idea that the heart condition and will of the person doing the seeking plays a vital role in the evidence that is available to them. To quote Moser: “What if divinely desired human knowledge of God is not a spectator sport but rather calls for obedient human knowledge of God as authoritative Lord, not as a morally indefinite creator?”3John Polkinghorne contributes chapter four: God and Physics. Here the physicist and theologian explores the implications of fundamental worldviews. His view is that materialism (naturalism) just doesn’t make sense of the world: “My contention will be that the materialist starting point is unsatisfying. The laws of nature, as modern physics has discovered them to be, have a character which is not self-contained but rather seems to point beyond them to the need for a further and deeper level of intelligibility.”4Chapters five a six deal with themes of evolution. Michael Behe’s chapter God and Evolution reiterates themes presented in his book The Edge of Evolution, giving evidence that evolution has its limits and a fully Darwinian explanation of life is unwarranted. Michael J. Murray’s chapter Evolutionary Explanations of Religion examines the New Atheism’s idea of religion as a mere bi-product of evolution. His discussion springboards from the “evidence that human minds are in fact, if not exactly hard-wired, at least strongly predisposed to religious belief and behavior.”5 He examines four different naturalistic accounts of religion and shows that none of them can answer the question satisfactorily.Chad Meister begins a chapter in the next section entitled: God, Evil and Morality. This is basically a discussion on the problem of evil based upon the arguments typically wielded by the New Atheists. However, Meister points out that: “Everyone must provide an account of the evil which exists in the world, and of the various worldview options it seems clear that the atheistic account is the least successful.”6 Meister doesn’t end with that point, but explores the issue in order to expose the core of the conflict: “…believing that something is right or wrong and justifying one’s belief that something is right or wrong are two very different matters. In believing in morality without justifying morality, the New Atheists are confusing an epistemic (knowledge) issue with an ontological (foundational existence) one.”7 He notes that atheists can do good things and accomplish worthy goals, but:
“…what they cannot do, from within their atheistic worldview, is provide a reasonable justification for the existence of non-subjective, universally binding moral values such as compassion, dignity, and respect or moral vices such as evil and injustice. For that task, they would need to include God in their inventory of what exists.”8
Alister McGrath continues the discussion of evil in chapter eight with Is Religion Evil? He points out the New Atheism’s angle: “One of its central themes is the simplistic soundbite ideally attuned to a media-driven culture which prefers breezy slogans to serious analysis:Religion is evil.”9 However, McGrath aims to show that only individual religions exist, “religion” doesn’t. He asserts that the real problem is absolutism. He shows that atheism has problems of its own to explain: “Atheism is just fine when it remains nothing more than ideas, discussed in university seminar rooms. But when it grasps political power, it turns out to be just as bad as anything else.”10 And finally, McGrath shows what happens when Dawkins’ atheism gains power: “…Dawkins fails to appreciate that when a society rejects the idea of God, it tends to transcendentalize alternatives – such as the ideals of liberty and equality. These now become quasi-divine authorities, which none are permitted to challenge.”11
Chapter nine is by Paul Copan: Are Old Testament Laws Evil? His goal in this chapter is to counter the numerous and varied accusations that the Old Testament laws are evil. Copan evaluates the ethics of the Old Testament in light of the historical context of the time, covering five common categories of objections. He offers clarifications, corrections, and context to the typical objections raised about Old Testament laws. He points out that: “The New Atheists resist the notion of Yahweh’s rightful prerogatives over humans; they seem uncomfortable with the idea of judgment or cosmic authority.”12 Copan also shows that from the atheistic view of the world, there is no actual foundation for their complaints because, “…despite Dawkins’s moral outrage, his metaphysic disallows it, admitting that a universe full of electrons contains ‘no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.’”13 Copan reminds the reader that: “…the New Atheists somehow gloss over the destructive atheistic ideologies that have led to far greater loss of human life within just one century than ‘religion’ … with its wars, inquisitions and witch trials. Atheism has proven to be a far more destructive force than ‘religion.’”14
Concluding the third part of the book is Jerry L. Walls’ chapter, How Could God Create Hell? He examines the idea philosophically with the goals to both clarify what the doctrine implies and to show that it does not contradict the existence of a loving God. Walls first points of the deep significance of exploring the topic of hell: “Not to care, and care deeply, about the truth of the matter where hell is concerned is nothing short of insane. […] Given what is at stake in the doctrine, however, no rational person can be indifferent to whether it is true or not.”15 He also points out that some reject hell because of the fact that many people either abuse the idea for purposes of manipulation, or simply respond emotionally to the threat of hell – however, rejection based on those reasons is an error in thinking. As Walls puts it, “…no one should make the mistake of concluding that the doctrine of hell is false because some, if not many, persons who have believed in it have done so for irrational or emotional reasons.”16 Walls comes to the conclusion that God is not torturing people; rather, people bring hell upon themselves because of their own choice: “So in short, hell is created when free beings use (more accurately, abuse) the freedom God has given them not to embrace him but to reject him. In so doing, they reject the only possible source of deep and lasting happiness, and thereby consign themselves to frustration, misery and suffering.”17 Walls draws from some of C.S. Lewis’ ideas and emphasizes the idea that hell is self-inflicted, while providing little scriptural support for the philosophical conclusions.
Part four (Why it Matters) begins with Charles Taliaferro on Recognizing Divine Revelation. He details four reasons for denying divine revelation: the problem of fairness, vanity and jealousy of God, the inadequacy of religious experience, and the no miracles objection. He answers each of them concisely and satisfactorily while suggesting that the critic’s concern should not only be with looking at the Bible; the critic should also attempt to look through the Bible and see who and what it reveals.
In chapter twelve, Scot McKnight writes on The Messiah You Never Expected. He lays out ten observations about the life and character of Jesus in light of the time period he lived. One of his goals here is to show that, upon encountering Jesus for the first time, people were in wonder and amazement at his character and his activity. He shows us that we ought to read the Gospels with this in mind (as if we are reading them for the first time) in order to answer the question: “Who do you say that I am?”
In chapter thirteen, Gary Habermas contributes his essay on Tracing Jesus’ Resurrection to Its Earliest Eyewitness Accounts. His goal here is to show that the resurrection appearances are securely grounded in the historical tradition. The original resurrection proclamation was exceptionally early and linked to the initial eyewitnesses themselves. Habermas concludes that: “This argument has stunned a generation of critical scholars, causing them to realize that Jesus’ resurrection appearances, unlike later parallels which may have borrowed from Christianity, are firmly grounded in the historical tradition.”18
Why Faith in Jesus Matters by Mark Mittelberg is the final chapter. Here Mittelberg makes a case for putting faith in Christ. Regarding faith, he says:
“This might surprise you, but even atheists live by faith – including the so-called New Atheists. They operate in the belief that there is no Creator, no higher moral law to which they are accountable, no divine judgment and no afterlife. They can’t prove any of these things. They don’t know for a fact that there is no God, spiritual standard, day of reckoning or existence after death. In fact, most people in the world believe that denying these things goes against the evidence as well as human experience and therefore requiresmore faith. I’ll say it again: everybody has faith – in something.”19
Two additional supplements to the fourteen chapters are the postscript and the appendix. The postscript is a discussion between Antony Flew (the former atheist) and Gary Habermas. The discussion between Flew and Habermas is meant simply to explore the journey that Flew took in his change of views. It is not meant to critically examine the multiple facets of the various arguments, but to get an idea of what lines of thought most influenced Flew. In response to Habermas’ question to Flew on the evidence for the resurrection, Flew says: “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events.”20 The reader will also note his various reasons for not yet being persuaded by this evidence.
The appendix contains philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. It bears the title: “The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism “Ad Absurdum.” Although this review can be found freely on the Internet, its inclusion here is an appropriate final word on the most notable work of the New Atheists.
In conclusion, God is Great, God is Good edited by Craig and Meister is a substantive and scholarly response to the New Atheism. It is also a great introduction to the most recent work of some very notable scholars and philosophers.
1 William Lane Craig, God is Great, God is Good (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 27.
2 J.P. Moreland, p. 47.
3 Paul Moser, p. 57.
4 John Polkinghorne, p. 65.
5 Michael J. Murray, p. 91.
6 Chad Meister, p. 108.
7 Ibid., p. 110.
8 Ibid., p. 117.
9 Alister McGrath, p. 120.
10 Ibid.., p. 127.
11 Ibid., p. 128.
12 Paul Copan, p. 152.
13 Ibid., p. 153
15 Jerry L. Walls, pp. 156-157.
16 Ibid., p. 158.
17 Ibid., p. 162.
18 Gary Habermas, p. 215.
19 Mark Mittelberg, p. 218.
20 Antony Flew, p. 242.