Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Scriptures that inform my politics

What follows is a short review of scriptures, in English with their originals, that inform my politics. They are here for reference and to provide a mirror for personal critique. They are listed in the order that they came to mind.

Jesus is King and Other Powers are Not

"Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place'" (John 18.36 NIV).

ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς· ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου· εἰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ἦν ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμή, οἱ ὑπηρέται οἱ ἐμοὶ ἠγωνίζοντο [ἂν] ἵνα μὴ παραδοθῶ τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις· νῦν δὲ ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐντεῦθεν. (NA28)

The passages in the Pauline letters detailing the supremacy of Christ over all powers, for example, Ephesians 19b-23

"That power [identified in the previous clause as being "his incomparably great power for us who believe"] is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (NIV)

καὶ τί τὸ ὑπερβάλλον μέγεθος τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ εἰς ἡμᾶς τοὺς πιστεύοντας κατὰ τὴν ἐνέργειαν τοῦ κράτους τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ.ἣν ἐνήργησεν ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐγείρας αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ καθίσας ἐν δεξιᾷ αὐτοῦ ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοιςὑπεράνω πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας καὶ δυνάμεως καὶ κυριότητος καὶ παντὸς ὀνόματος ὀνομαζομένου, οὐ μόνον ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν τῷ μέλλοντικαὶ πάντα ὑπέταξεν ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ καὶ αὐτὸν ἔδωκεν κεφαλὴν ὑπὲρ πάντα τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ,ἥτις ἐστὶν τὸ σῶμα αὐτοῦ, τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν πληρουμένου. (UBS 5)

God's Kingdom is God-Breathed and Does Not Require Human Agency

"[Abraham] was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. . . . [He, with the rest of the OT saints] were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."

ἐξεδέχετο γὰρ τὴν τοὺς θεμελίους ἔχουσαν πόλιν ἧς τεχνίτης καὶ δημιουργὸς ὁ θεός. . . . νῦν δὲ κρείττονος ὀρέγονται, τοῦτ᾽ ἔστιν ἐπουρανίου. διὸ οὐκ ἐπαισχύνεται αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς θεὸς ἐπικαλεῖσθαι αὐτῶν· ἡτοίμασεν γὰρ αὐτοῖς πόλιν.

The People of God are a Nation of Priests, Imaging His Care to Creation

"Then God said, 'Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'" (Genesis 1.26-28 NIV)

יֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְעֹ֣וף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִםוּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָרֶץ׃וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמֹ֔ו בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹתֹ֑ו זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּבִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְעֹ֣וף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

"But the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8.19-23 NIV)

ἡ γὰρ ἀποκαραδοκία τῆς κτίσεως τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν τῶν υἱῶν τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεκδέχεται. τῇ γὰρ ματαιότητι ἡ κτίσις ὑπετάγη, οὐχ ἑκοῦσα ἀλλὰ διὰ τὸν ὑποτάξαντα, ἐφ᾽ ἑλπίδι ὅτι καὶ αὐτὴ ἡ κτίσις ἐλευθερωθήσεται ἀπὸ τῆς δουλείας τῆς φθορᾶς εἰς τὴν ἐλευθερίαν τῆς δόξης τῶν τέκνων τοῦ θεοῦ. οἴδαμεν γὰρ ὅτι πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις συστενάζει καὶ συνωδίνει ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν οὐ μόνον δέ, ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτοὶ τὴν ἀπαρχὴν τοῦ πνεύματος ἔχοντες, ἡμεῖς καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐν ἑαυτοῖς στενάζομεν υἱοθεσίαν ἀπεκδεχόμενοι, τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2.9 NIV)

Ὑμεῖς δὲ γένος ἐκλεκτόν, βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα, ἔθνος ἅγιον, λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν, ὅπως τὰς ἀρετὰς ἐξαγγείλητε τοῦ ἐκ σκότους ὑμᾶς καλέσαντος εἰς τὸ θαυμαστὸν αὐτοῦ φῶς

Jesus's Summary of the Torah

"Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22.37-40 NIV)

ὁ δὲ ἔφη αὐτῷ, Ἀγαπήσεις κύριον τὸν θεόν σου ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ καρδίᾳ σου καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ψυχῇ σουκαὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ μεγάλη καὶ πρώτη ἐντολή. δευτέρα δὲ ὁμοία αὐτῇ,Ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. ἐν ταύταις ταῖς δυσὶν ἐντολαῖς ὅλος ὁ νόμος κρέμαται καὶ οἱ προφῆται.

The Parable Teaching of Jesus

Rather than post these parables and the Greek text, I am going to supply hyperlinks.

The Good Samaritan (English | Greek)
The Shrewd Manager (English | Greek)
The Sheep and the Goats (English | Greek)


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Heidegger's entanglement

"Had Heidegger ever come up with a saying to sum up his philosophy it would have been: ‘I dwell, therefore I am.’ For him, identity is bound up with being in the world, which in turn means having a place in it. We don’t live in the abstract space favoured by philosophers, but in a particular place, with specific features and history. We arrive already entangled with the world, not detached from it. Our identity is not secured just in our heads but through our bodies too, how we feel and how we are moved, literally and emotionally.

"Instead of presenting it as a puzzle to be solved, Heidegger’s world is one we should immerse ourselves in and care for: it is part of the larger ‘being’ where we all belong. As Malpas puts it, Heidegger argues that we should release ourselves to the world, to find our part in its larger ebb and flow, rather than seek to detach ourselves from it in order to dominate it." ~ Charles Leadbeater summarizes a lot of what I like about Heidegger in as clean a language as one could care for.

----------

A quick word about Heidegger's Nazism: I want to say that Heidegger was like Ezra Pound, whom I feel gets a pass for being a good poet, but a political and social idiot. Pound was selfless enough to encourage many world-class poets. But, Heidegger wasn't selfless. He was man of poor character, a bigot, a coward. He did not practice what he preached. Reading Heidegger is like coming back to what was a family home, now made rubble by a spring twister. Tragedy everywhere, but some keepsakes remain.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

An Unalienable Shelf

Supreme Court Justice William Brennen, Jr., speaking at Georgetown University on October 12, 1985, put into words something that has been gnawing at me for months now. I had only one class in law, and that was business law. Yet I think it true that values exist beyond the violent grasp of politics. Brennen agrees, pointing to the Bill of Rights.

"The view that all matters of substantive policy should be resolved through the majoritarian process has appeal under some circumstances, but I think it ultimately will not do. Unabashed enshrinement of majority will would permit the imposition of a social caste system or wholesale confiscation of property so long as a majority of the authorized legislative body, fairly elected, approved. Our Constitution could not abide such a situation. It is the very purpose of a Constitution-and particularly of the Bill of Rights-to declare certain values transcendent, beyond the reach of temporary political majorities. The majoritarian process cannot be expected to rectify claims of minority right that arise as a response to the outcomes of that very majoritarian process."

The Bill of Rights, of course, is a document born of politics. But the founders rightly tossed the ball up out of reach and into the hand of God, "that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights" and it lists a few of these that were consequent upon its historic purpose.

I think American politics has forgotten this high unalienable shelf. And I know that American evangelicals have largely forgotten it. But a theological politic must have it and cannot exist without it. Isn't that shelf "Jesus is Lord (and you are not)"? Yes. Consider, then, the unalienable shelf of values untouchable by the greedy chaos of human politic: to it we aspire and from it we are judged (Psalm 2).

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Some Changes Affected by Sacramental Theology

A couple of threads have come together for me recently, and I want to sketch them out. Each one began independent of the others. But all have found a common nexus in sacramental theology.

Sacramental theology is that branch of theology which asks about the sacraments. And it is a very connected node. Every branch of theology connects to it, that is, has something to say about it, and it has something to say about them. One of the best surprises in my theological life was discovering that sacramental theology existed in the edifice of theology, and that it had always done so ("The sacrament is a manifestation of the Word." ~ Schmemman). But, due to the theological choices made by earlier Christian communities in which I worshiped, it had always been avoided. It was kind of the odd basement or the run-down wing of the castle. Not so any more. Its doors were flung open in 2008, and I was allowed to wander. And, in so doing, it has slowly proved influential and necessary. So, then, getting back to those threads--

The first one has to do with the way that the New Testament casts this age as a second Exodus. Jesus, for example, is often called the prophet, and is obviously the new Moses in the Sermon on the Mount relaying a new Torah. Beyond that, though, Paul warns the Corinthians not to make the same mistakes that Israel did in the Wilderness, and equates old and new testament ritual acts. Clearly there are parallels: the crossing of the red sea becomes baptism and God's supply of water and manna in the wilderness becomes the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

The second has to do with the subtle way that Reformation theology requires sacramental theology. Without it, Calvinism becomes a baptized determinism, with its cold inevitability. With it, Calvin's (if not Paul's) debit and credit of election is balanced with the warm generosity of the open table.

The third has to do with a question I have been asking myself for a while: Why do revivalist churches hammer on sin so much? Why does the either/or in/out saved/damned of sin's dialectic logic figure so prominently in the way these traditions work? Don't get me wrong: Jesus talked about sin a lot. I'm not asking why revivalist churches talk about sin, but why it is their opening gambit? Why isn't it the third behind, say, hospitality to strangers (the other) and evangelism? Anyway, perhaps an answer may be found in the soft-pedaling revivalist traditions make of sacrament. Without the common loaf, these traditions require something else to make a common center. And that thing is dogma. Theology becomes an exercise in border patrol. Exegesis as inoculation. Sacrament resists such reduction. Sacramental theology casts a wider net that a border or than pure reason.

This is not to say that confessions which include sacramental theology must not include a well-considered harmartiology, they must or be innovators. However, the reason and function of that harmartiology is going to be different and differently expressed. How exactly, I haven't yet worked out.

----------

Postscript: A recent Facebook discussion on the merits of subsidized (free) undergraduate education produced the following comment from a local commissioner that I know. Her response reflects exactly the kind of save/damned, in/out boundary speech discussed in the third point above, albeit in a political context. She wrote:

"With the amount of free college being already provided to a large extent in TN and an extremely high drop out rate.....there are no incentives and no proverbial skin in the game. Not everyone deserves a trophy. In the real world there are winners and losers and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we grow up and [move] on to more productive lives instead of constantly waiting for the next hand out. Life does not hand out participation trophies."

This is the spirit in which she begins to do politics or in which she does politics. And she is representative of the American norm. Why do we begin from this attitude? I don't find it a thoughtful attitude or a compassionate one, and it is definitely not a theological one.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Robinson on Conscience in the Churches

A Winter 2018 post in the American Scholar excerpts Marilynne Robinson thinking aloud about conscience. And, in the doing, she puts to words some of the thoughts about how conscience was supposed to work in the early church that have been swimming around in my head. I've long had the suspicion that more needed to be said about conscience, whatever it is. (We are still waiting on the latest brain scan to tell us.) Anyway, here is the relevant portion:
In his letter to the Romans, Paul asks the new congregation, apparently divided by cultural and ethical differences between its pagan and Jewish members, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? It is before his master that he stands or falls, and the Lord will make him stand.” This is advice meant for members of a community of believers, people who accept servanthood as descriptive of their and their fellows’ relationship to God, and who see this relationship as personal in the sense that God loves where he loves and compensates for his servants’ failings by his grace. Ideally they have accepted a particular obedience, with origins in the laws of Moses, exemplified in the life and teachings of Christ. So much might the apostle see, or hope to see, in the early Church. But history tells us that no great effort has ever been required to narrow the circle of those who should be seen as God’s servants, whose errors would be made good by God’s grace and therefore should not be judged. We all know the enormities that have made themselves presentable to the Christian conscience, often enough campaigns of violence against other Christians. Sects and denominations still remember the injuries their ancestors suffered long centuries ago, and can still become indignant at the thought of them. They might also remember injuries they inflicted, if the comforts of identity were not diluted a little by such ventures into honesty.
Here is another thing Paul says in the letter to the Romans, still in the context of his thoughts on tolerance and the authority of conscience: “The faith you have, have as your own conviction before God.” That is, do not judge fellow believers and do not offend them. It may be fair to wonder whether this excellent advice has gone unheeded all these years because faith has tended to be a conviction shown to men, who, if we can trust Paul, are a good deal more fastidious than God.

This to me is a vital plank about how we approach ecclesiology, moving away from a doctrinal line in the sand (always moving and porous for insiders, always firm and impermeable to outsiders) toward a generous tolerance bound not to tolerance for tolerance sake but to God's ability to govern for himself his own people. More later on this.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

On Bonhoeffer's world come of age

Today I finished Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison (MacMillan 1967 rev. ed.) and read for myself those oft-quoted passages of a world come of age and of Christian faith beyond religion. How many dozens of times have I thought about these words Bonhoeffer wrote from Tegel prison to his friend Eberhard Bethge? How many dozens of books and articles have I read from people also struggling to understand Bonhoeffer's pastoral vision?

Bonhoeffer observes that the people of his day are immunized by modernity against religious impulses. "Man," he writes (Mensch), "has learnt to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the 'working hypothesis' called 'God' . . . "Everything gets along without 'God'--and, in fact, just as well as before" (168).[1] And he wants to know how Christian preaching and the church should best address this.

What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience--and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving toward a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more. Even those who honestly describe themselves as "religious" do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different. . . What kind of situation emerges emerges for us, for the church? . . . What is a religionless Christianity? (141)
At the same time, he finds the general theological response to modernity, namely the retreat to the subjective and psychological interior life, inadequate. He is no fan of a psychological flight into the inner life, which is taken up by, he says, existentialist philosophy, psychotherapy [psychologism], and methodism (which I take to mean Pietist, individualist brands of Christianity). Bonhoeffer hates their appeal to an emotional God of the Gaps that approaches a human being only "after his weaknesses and meannesses have been spied out [and in] those secret human places that God is to have his domain" (183). "The secrets known to a man's valet--that is, to put it crudely, the range of his intimate life, from prayer to his sexual life--have become the hunting-ground of modern pastoral workers" (181). "If [someone] cannot be brought to see and admit that his happiness is really an evil, his health sickness, and his vigour despair, the theologian is at his wits' end" (179). Such is not the way of Jesus for Bonhoeffer. I like this characteristic of Bonhoeffer's thought: it is muscular and energetic--courageous. "When Jesus blessed sinners, they were real sinners, but Jesus did not make everyone a sinner first" (Ibid). Such acts attempt to reduce a come-of-age humanity to an adolescent, "to make him dependent on things on which he is, in fact, no longer dependent, and thrusting him into problems that are, in fact, no longer problems for him" (169).

I therefore want to start from the premise that God should not be smuggled into some last secret place, but that we should frankly recognize that the world, and people, have come of age, that we should not run man down in his worldliness, but confront him with God at his strongest point, that we should give up all our clerical tricks, and not regard psychotherapy and existentialist philosophy as God's pioneers. . . . The Word of God is far removed from this revolt of mistrust, this revolt from below. On the contrary, it reigns. (184)
Bonhoeffer's way forward is a developing hypothesis. He knew the feel of his insight, but blurred and without edges. He eschewed what he calls a salto mortale, a death-leap back to the Middle Ages. (Here he quotes a song "Oh if only I knew the way back, the long way back to the land of childhood.")[2] And he embraced a way forward without religion, without the "religious a priori" of mankind. Bonhoeffer claimed that Karl Barth had here shown the way by means of the critique of religion Barth discussed in his commentary on Romans (Der Römerbrief, 2nd ed). Taking up the scalpel of penultimate-versus-ultimate that Bonhoeffer discusses in, for example, Act and Being, Bonhoeffer looked for a Christ outside of religion, "really the Lord of the world" (141). He would find Jesus at the center of life, not at the end of it. He would find Jesus not in the clouds, but in the concrete and everyday world. "Jesus claims for himself and the Kingdom of God the whole of human life in all its manifestations" (180).

It is not with the beyond that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored. What is above this world is, in the gospel, intended to exist for this world; I mean that, not in the anthropocentric sense of liberal, mystic, pietistic, ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of the creation and of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
For Bonhoeffer, this new form of faith would use a new language "perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming--as was Jesus's language" (161). It would speak from the courageous openness of the gospel, calling things what they are and not winking at the godlessness of the world (Luther). And it would not require, citing Paul's teaching about circumcision, people to become religious before they could be disciples. It would take "hold of a man at the centre of his life" and send "a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way" (176).

Similarly, its god would not have his domain in the secret places of the inner world--the Bible doesn't separate the inner and outer. "It is always concerned with anthropos teleios, the whole man" (183). Its god summons his people to a maturity that means "we must live as men who manage our lives without him" (188), etsi deus non daretur (even if God did not exist).[3] Not that God is absent, but that he has "let himself be pushed out of the world and on to the cross.

The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34) . . . He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. . . . the world's coming of age outlined above which has done away with a false conception of God, opens up a way of seeing the God of the Bible, who wins power and space in the world by his weakness. (188)
Bonhoeffer, following Martin Luther, bends to his work holding a theology of the cross. We know God best as he reveals himself in Christ crucified for sinners. And, indeed, the kenotic direction of his thought--where kenotic means "self-emptying" after the Christ hymn of Philippians chapter two--is what electrified the English west when Bonhoeffer's works were translated after the Second World War. This kenotic theology has since been well-worked-out in many directions: in the liberalism of John A. T. Robinson's popular book Honest to God and in Western liberalism (Spong etc.) and in the liberationist theologies heralded by Jürgen Moltmann, whose first published work was an essay on Bonhoeffer, and from there in Gustavo Guitterez and, after him, in a million splintered shards: womanist theologies, queer theologies, theologies of film, aesthetic theology, etc.

Finally, for I had not meant this summary of Bonhoeffer's response to modernity to go on for this length, he describes in two letters written March 19 and July 18, 1944 (within a year of his execution), his worldly Christian. It amazes me that these portrait miniatures are passed over in the literature; I see the same quotes pulled again and again (an epigraphic example of the word-thing fallacy).

In his letter of March 19, Bonhoeffer talks about maturity, about what it means to be a grown up.

Is it not characteristic of a man, in contrast to an immature person, that his centre of gravity is always where he actually is, and that the longing for the fulfillment of his wishes cannot prevent him from being his whole self, wherever he happens to be? The adolescent is never wholly in one place; that is one of his essential characteristics . . . There is a wholeness about the fully grown man which enables him to face an existing situation squarely. He may have his longings, but he keeps them out of sight, and somehow masters them; and the more he has to overcome in order to live fully in the present, the more he will have the respect and confidence of his fellows, especially the younger ones who are still on the road that he has already traveled. Desires to which we cling closely can easily prevent us from being what we ought to be and can be; and on the other hand, desires repeatedly mastered for the sake of duty make us richer. Lack of desire is poverty. Almost all the people that I find in my present surroundings cling to their own desires, and so have no interest in others; they no longer listen, and they are incapable of loving their neighbor. I think that even in this place we ought to live as if we had no wishes and no future, and just be our true selves. It is remarkable then how others come to rely on us, confide in us, and let us talk to them. . . . We can have an abundant life, even though many wishes remain unfulfilled--that is what I have really been trying to say. (127-128)
It is tempting to say that Bonhoeffer is but describing a socially respected, middle-class, German man in a society that values reticence, a man such as his father. However, such a conclusion is undone by the details. The "centre of gravity" by which Bonhoeffer's man lives is conceptually close to Bonhoeffer's emphasis throughout his writings, including those on the world come of age, on keeping ultimate things (Jesus's reign) ultimate . Bonhoeffer's Christian is not a stoic without desires but a person who values his desires, if only because they pave the road to riches of character. Desires frame the doorway toward the love of neighbor, a key Christian virtue--but as they are mastered. Those who do not master their desires, who cling to them, do not cultivate virtue and Christian character. Indeed, it is in his desires that Bonhoeffer's man becomes present: not dispassionate, but present for others who "come to rely on us." This is an abundant life, he says, even if desires go unfulfilled.[4] In summary, the Christian in a world come of age resists his desires for others and is fulfilled in each moment, even though his life may be fragmented. Such a man cannot help but become morally attractive. He attracts the nations, so to speak, and they come to hear his wisdom.

In the letter of July 18, Bonhoeffer talks about suffering. The Christian in the world come of age lives a secular life, he says, which means sharing in God's sufferings. He can do that because he is a free man, free to live "unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities" (193). He need not be religious in any particular way. Instead, he accepts himself as created by Christ. Living in the world is a metanoia, a repentance, "not thinking about one's own needs, problems, sins, and fears, but allowing oneself to be caught up into the way of Jesus Christ," which he later describes as being "caught up into the messianic suffering of God in Jesus Christ" (190). Jesus calls his people to live powerless and yet available to the world, as he did and does yet. Jesus is, as Bonhoeffer says elsewhere, "a man for others." This is to live as a blessing. "We have received God's blessing in happiness and in suffering. Yet those who have been blessed can do nothing but pass on this blessing; indeed, they must be a blessing wherever they are."

I hope this post has made a good outline of Bonhoeffer's cultural diagnosis of Western culture, his world come of age. And I hope it has suggested the kind of people and church that Bonhoeffer believes must live in such a world if they would be Christ's. I had hoped to make comments about how Bonhoeffer's points inform my own project and suggest themes that Bonhoeffer may have continued to develop had he lived. This will have to wait.

----------

[1] Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls this state which is impervious to religious appeal the "buffered self."

[2] Analogous to discussions of enchantment, disenchantment, and re-enchantment, or the loss of an enchanted universe. On this blog, note the following blog posts: (1) Charles Taylor's ideological diagnosis of modernity, and (2) my description of the enchanted and disenchanted universe.

[3] Pope Benedict's used this Latin clause in an address to the Pontifical Council on Culture: "New information technologies [and] globalization has [sic] often also resulted in disseminating in all cultures many of the materialistic and individualistic elements of the West. The formula "Etsi Deus non daretur" is increasingly becoming a way of living that originates in a sort of “arrogance” of reason – a reality nonetheless created and loved by God – that deems itself self-sufficient and closes itself to contemplation and the quest for a superior Truth."

[4] In an earlier letter, Bonhoeffer compared human lives to Bach fuges whose motives are fragmentary but, in God's providence, are made into a whole.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pattern Language: Death Begets Growth

Pattern: Death Begets Growth (85)

Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12:14 ESV). What we hope for, must die. We must surrender over that which we love best.

Category

Related Cards

Working Notes

This is a mess of a card as it stands. As it is, some nut job will kill themselves or another out of hope and love. More work in this pattern is necessary, for when does it apply? To what degree? And how can we trust ourselves or our destroyer?

Pattern Language: Opening a Closed Circle

Pattern: Opening a Closed Circle: 83

We are confronted by a closed circle, with the hidden city, with the high garden wall, and with coldness of heart. What is on the other side? And how can we ask? As Socrates says in the Meno, "A man cannot inquire either about that which he knows or about that which he does not know. For if he knows, he has no need to enquire, and if not, he cannot, for he does not know the very subject about which he is to inquire." Plato's puzzle is about knowledge, but the circle is wider still. For example,

"Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes," said Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Nachfolge).

"A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none; A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all," said Martin Luther (De Libertate Christiana).

"Which comes first," asked the young Augustine, "to call upon you or to praise you? To know you or to call upon you? Must we know you before we can call upon you? Anyone who invokes what is still unknown may be making a mistake" (Confessiones 1.1).

Category

Related Cards

Working Notes

I'm still working hard on completing even the first draft of this card. The circle problem is a problem of discipleship, of how one becomes another thing. It is a kind of miracle. It is ontological. It is election. What is the difference between it and creation? Is this card soteriology? Note the quote from Emerson's "Circles": "Everything looks permanent until its secret is known." And Dave Eggers has an essay called "The Circle" about corporate totalitarianism.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pattern Language: Every Action is Reaction

PATTERN: Every Action is Reaction: 82

An end is governed by its beginning, and creation its creator. No action is an island, but is, in truth, reaction.

And because God is personal--that is, moral--reaction is a moral act. Stones testify to their fitness to the divine will. Times and seasons progress along their established ways. The natural world is borne along, green and flowering, by the progressive action of God's intent.

Human knowing too is reaction. We know in response to that in which we are thrown (Geworfenheit).

Persons alien to God's promise are not alone. Even where violent, dismissive, or agnostic, their acts (reactions) are framed still by the divine actor; God is not far away. "For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17.28).

But the Christian has the best response, for their reaction is obedience. And that obedience is not born of force, fear, obligation, or automation. It is born of gratitude; it is born of love reciprocated. It is their appropriate hesed.

Category

Metaphysics * Theology

Related Cards

Obedience (19) * Faithfulness (18) * Creation (31) * Time (40) * Choice (45) * Work (77) * Personal Relationship (80) * Wisdom (49) *

Working Notes

It seems to me that I'm trying to shove things clumsily together here. Natural theology; Heidegger's idea of thrownness, which is at least an epistemology--and in my thinking is a way to knowing-in-community thinking rather than individualism; the hesed of covenental fealty and obedience; and even an ontology of a sort with Ekhart. What am I trying to do in this card? I need to either abstract it out further or figure out exactly what it is doing. What problem is it solving? What pattern is it describing?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Pattern Language: God leads out

PATTERN: God leads out (81)

God begins. All else is response. From the creatio ex nihilo of the cosmos to the covenant with Abraham to the redeeming of the cosmos to the gift of the Spirit to the coming judgment, all of it would not and cannot be apart from God's beginning of it. This leading out is metaphysical (God as the Unmoved Mover), ethical (God's logos defining the basic categories of good and evil), soteriological (the missio Dei acts according to the agreed desire of the triune persons), and practical (the Christian lives upon the path of God's promises; the Christian prays the Lord's prayer and so asks that God affect his divine will).

Category

Related Cards

Creation (31) * Grace (26) * Mission (34) * Law (37) * The Spiral/Recapitulation (42) * Election (43) * Promise (51) * Revelation (52) * Covenant (60) * Adoption (70) * Judgment (50) * Freedom (53) * Incarnation (81) * Faith (76) * Blessing (2) * Love (56)

___________

Karl Barth: [God] wills and posits the creature neither out of caprice nor necessity, but because he has loved it from eternity, because he wills to demonstrate his love for it, and because he wills, not to limit his glory by its existence and being, but to reveal and manifest it in his own co-existence with it. . . . there cannot follow from the creature's own existence and being an immanent determination of its goal or purpose, or a claim to any right, meaning or dignity of its existence and nature accruing to it except as a gift" (CD: III/1.95).

Monday, July 10, 2017

Exploring pattern relationships: Community and Election

To move forward, my pattern language needs relationships. Where patterns are indexed to other patterns, meaning can be made. Apart from connection, what can be done? Below are my first two examples. One is built from *Community and the other from *Election.



Couple of comments: (a) Making relationships reveals holes. The *Election diagram is missing *Grace, for example. (b) Laying cards out like this begs some kind of method that identifies which idea is the spoke, which are antonyms or synonyms, which are higher-level or lower-level relationships, etc. (c) I don't think I understand what a pattern really is.

What is a pattern? Is it a recurring move or strategy or theme? For example, is *God the Father a pattern? What about *Water? What about *Christology?

And how many patterns is too many? Does a language need to be small enough to hold it all in one's mind, or, because patterns are indexed, can it be much larger? Does a large number of patterns suggest sloppy repetitiveness? Is too few not useful?

Finally, I have two ideas about an overall schema or index. I keep thinking about the divine economy and the Trinity and such. I keep thinking about the threefold liturgical confession: "Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again!"

I keep thinking about theological moves and movements. And so I have been toying with the following dramatic scheme:

  • creation/introduction/recognition
  • identification/empathy
  • kenotic service
  • gracious restoration
  • glorious presentation.

But, then again, maybe the classic divisions such as Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, etc. are just as good.