Saturday, January 31, 2004

Creation as Communion, and it's Lack

prompted by a good friend joe myers' post on "the root of sin", as well as the thoughts below about jason clark's essay concerning "being human", and my preparation to preach on Jesus as the Logos, here is a little blurb on creation and redemption.

joe asks, "What if the root of sin is good--not evil? What if sin is the excessive and unhealthy ways we express the passion of the soul?" Now this naturally puts sin in the realm of desire and volition, but I don’t want to go there for now because that is the well trodden realm of "where does evil come from?... From our free-will" kind of argument. Rather, I want to trace out more of the creation aspect of it.

My initial comment on his post was, "I absolutely love this. what an affirmation of God's good creation. our passions and desire are good, just misdirected and excessive. yet, from where does this excess come? from where the misdirection, the "bendness"? It is a lack, a void, a privation of the good, it is good subtracted from...maybe the root of evil is Nothing, the desire for nothing rather than the Something of God's creation."

Let’s start with evil as Nothing, or the idea that evil is the privation of Good. One of the earliest proponents of this view is Augustine in his On the Nature of the Good and The Enchiridion. It goes something like this…Creation is good by definition b/c God is Good and is the Creator. Creation derives its existence God. All natural beings are good by nature according to their creation. What we call evil is a corrupted nature, yet due to its continuing existence is still good to an extent. As he says, "No nature is evil so far as it is naturally existent. Nothing is evil in anything save a diminishing of good. If the good is so far diminished as to be utterly consumed, just a there is no good left so there is no existence left." Therefore, evil is the privation of good, the corruption of good, such that evil really is Nothing, it is the Lack of Something. That's why I said evil is the desire for Nothing rather than the Something of God’s creation.

Now, moving on to Athanasius, another Church Father… Athanasius organically connects this conception of evil as privation with the doctrine of creation out of nothing, particularly man's creation. For him, because everything is made out of nothing, called into existence by the Word of God (Christ), everything is therefore mortal, or tending back toward nothing again. It seems that Athanasius didn't see creation as naturally eternal after creation, but always slipping back toward non-existence (which is an interesting premonition of the laws of thermo-dynamics). Now, concerning man, while by nature mortal, or corruptible, we were granted incorrabptability as the image of God, partaking of the Divine life, as he says, "For because the Word dwelling in them, even their natural corruption did not prevail." Yet, man rejected God and through their transgression was turning back to his natural state, for "just as they have had their being out of nothing, so also…they might expect their own corruption into nothing." So, having been granted both a mortal (corruptible) life and a divine (incorruptible) life, man is tending back toward a mortal life, or rather a mortal death. Athanasius' main point here is that the Word created mankind and gave him a divine life, and that the Fall into Death is not imposed by God as a punishment, rather the Fall into Death is man severing his connection to life, to his very being. Man is now slipping into nothing, the void. Or to reframe the discussion, as Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas would, the question is not that of existence but of communion. In the fall man made his existence (as something) his sole point of reference, neglecting his previous relationship (communion) with God, and so goes the title of his book, "Being as Communion."

Which brings us to the Incarnation… For Athanasius it is fitting that the Divine Word, through whom all was created out of nothing, through whom man was raised from his natural state, it is fitting that the Divine Word should himself come into creation as a man so that His original creation would not be utterly lost. He came in order to re-create what was turning into nothing. The Word, the creative/revealing principle of God, came into corruptible nature in order to gather back man into incorruptibility through His own body. Which, as Jason was saying, Jesus came to make us truly human again, to re-create us, not as an escape from creation (into heaven) but as the continuing gift of grace, which is creation. From this perspective there is nothing supernatural about redemption/salvation, but eminently natural. Redemption is God's re-articulation of Something (in the Word) rather than Nothing.

(one caveat concerning this notion…one of the major problems of beginning like this with an idea of evil as privation is that it might quickly end up promoting a lack of engagement with evil. The poor and oppressed might say "If evil is nothing, why do I see it everywhere?" or they might accuse me of creating a doctrine which sustain the status quo of the powerful because "what is is good" which will never lead toward rectifying evil. Which doesn't mean that “sin as privation” lacks an eschatological perspective, just that I need to explore it more….)

well that is enough for now, what do you all think?

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Mel Gibson's "The Passion"

was shown at a private screening at Willow Creek Community Church. I'm not really going to discuss the film at present (that will happen soon). Rather I have to comment on its use in the evangelical Christian community, and the irony of it...

From what I can tell, Mel Gibson has basically put he latin mass and the stations of the cross into a cinematic performance. It will be released on Feb. 25th (ash Wednesday), effectively opening the Lenten season of reflection and penance before Easter. Did I mention Gibson is a faithful Catholic?

Now, because Evangelical are both addicted to "cultural works" and liturgically ignorant, the evangelical community is gearing up for an evangelism explosion, using this film to connect with unbelievers. This was epitomized in during Bill Hybils interview with Gibson when he suggested to the 4,500 pastors in attendance that they might think of planning a sermon series that corresponded with the movie, so they could 'relevantly' make use of the film. (don't get me started about how evangelicals (ab)use art in/as evangelism).

Now, only because a film made by a Roman Catholic, can evangelicals enter into the liturgical calendar, and yet not know it. The irony is simple: evangelicals are taking cues from a Catholic; and they are only thinking liturgically (on accident) b/c they want to make use of a movie. Historically the Church always preached through "The Passion" of Christ every Lenten season. Maybe we should just get back to that and politely let Gibson’s "The Passion" explain itself.

Friday, January 23, 2004

I was going to writes something about Mel Gibson's "Passion" and Bill Hybil @ Willow Creek interview at a screening here in Chicago, but I just found out that my house is "unlivalble" due to toxic fumes, so I'll try later on this next week.

Monday, January 19, 2004

I've recently become friends with an Emergent coordinator from England who is working on his Doctor of Ministry: Leadership in the Emerging Culture. This essay writen by Jason Clark's focuses on our need to recover the doctrine of creation in relation to redemption, Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience

after reading it, hear are some of my thoughts (which I also sent to Jason). If you have any thought to add please do, even if you just have to catch the drift from my comments, although jason does a good job historically, worth reading.)

the turn back toward creation is great, absolutely necessary. Reading Webber’s ancient-future faith set me on the track of creation-incarnation-recreation rather than creation-fall-redemption. It has been shaping my thinking ever since. Also, your outlining of the debilitating effects of a narrowly defined “substitutionary atonement” are also right on the mark. I have been struggling with that similar gospel of “sin management” ever since high school. The eschatological aspects of creation and redemption are also very helpful. The focus on creation and redemption make much more sense of OT prophecies than Dispensationalism ever did to me.

I have two comments, not really critiques, just suggestions for further exploration…
1) Your link between creation and spiritual formation is definitely worth discussion/recovering, but it seems that this question is really one of justification and sanctification. If we are forensically, legally justified before God (through Christ’s substitutionary atonement which you alluded to) then why do we talk about sanctification? So while a recovery of creation (a doctrine of creation) certainly goes a long way to rectify this situation, we must focus on God’s plan work this redemption through a particular community, His covenant people. We only have a dichotomy b/w justification and sanctification b/c of the Reformation misunderstanding of Paul and the Judaism’s relationship to the Law. As N.T Wright says in What Saint Paul Really Said, “The purpose of the covenant was never simply that the Creator wanted to have Israel as a special people, irrespective of the rest of the world. The covenant was there to deal with the sin, and bring about the salvation, of the world.” And most of what Paul was talking about in his doctrine of “justification by faith” concerned not how people get saved (soteriology), but do we know people are part of the covenant community (ecclesiology). Anyway…I agree with you that most Churches aren’t read to work through these issues. I’m teaching a pre-baptismal class in our small church plant and I’m trying to work through all these creation/salvation/redemption/conversion issues as we go.

2) the turn back toward creation is also a turn back toward the Creator, implying the question, Who is the Creator? Which then bring us to what man is, or “Being Human” as you but it. As many might do, we could start from ontology, discussing God impersonally as the ground of being. We could start from ethics, discussing God impersonally as the standard of the Good, or we could start from the perspective of Uncause Cause, etc,etc. But this doesn’t begin where Scripture begins, with as a personal God. In relation to theology, if YHWH is personal, and the theologian is a person, then theology is a conversation, a dialogue, a disagreement, or even a misunderstanding between persons, toward which practice is it ultimate goal and expression, elevating prayer and worship as ground of theology/izing. And as you said, being human then is a question of being like Christ who is human to perfection, rather than just being divine. But more could be said about all that…
Living into Your Baptism

At a conference about 3 years ago, I heard Robert Webber say that he was still trying to live into his baptism. At the time I didn't quite get it what he meant. Now, however, while teaching through our churches pre-baptismal class (partically making it up as we go) Webber's statement is becoming much clearer. Unlike the Evangelical tradition I come from which puts all stock in the conversion experience, making baptism optional, I now see baptism as the culmination of conversion, as the only reference point really worth talking about. (our church already counts baptisms instead of "decisions.")

Many of the concepts covered by our "conversion" seem to be related to baptism in the new testamt. In the NT it seems baptism is the definitive symbol of crossing over from death to life, from sin to forgiveness. Baptism is the definitive symbol/statement of our union with Christ, our participation in his life through our own death. Baptism symbolizes our spiritual death and resurrection, our identification with Jesus, through our bodies, physically, materially, particularly.

Baptism is a shifting of alligiences, a changing of identities. Only through death can we become something else, and God in his wisdom did not leave it up to our inner subjectivites, our private psychological experience as this definite moment, but physically enacts this death and resurrection on our bodies, or our little pieces of the universe, the only thing that I can really call my own, my own body. Conversion is great, a decision to repent is great, but let us live into our baptism. Let us be marked into a new life. It marks our bodies and our psyches, a reference point we can look back at, a landmark to lead us. Let us put off the old self and put on the new. Let us live into our baptism.

Friday, January 16, 2004

my wife, syd, just took the theologian test. Seems we should have a pretty interesting marriage...

"It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is."

You are Desiderius Erasmus!

You have great love for others and will do just about anything to show it to them. You are tolerant
and avoid confrontations, so people generally are drawn to you. You are more quiet and reserved in
front of strangers, but around some people you open up. When things get tough, you like to meditate
alone. Unfortunately you often get things like "what a pansy," or "you're such a liberal."

What theologian are you?

A creation of Henderson

"God will not suffer man to have the knowledge of things to come; for if he had prescience
of his prosperity he would be careless; and understanding of his adversity he would be senseless."

You are Augustine!

You love to study tough issues and don't mind it if you lose sleep over them.
Everyone loves you and wants to talk to you and hear your views, you even get things like "nice debating
with you." Yep, you are super smart, even if you are still trying to figure it all out. You're also
very honest, something people admire, even when you do stupid things.

What theologian are you?

A creation of Henderson

thanks for the tip, cleave.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

a very helpful post about the emerging church from a semi-orthodox perspective by Clifton.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

belonging before believing, and Beyond Sectarianism

Many understand that evangelism and discipleship is more than getting someone to say/understand/know certain doctrines. As the saying goes, "belonging before believing," the turn toward community. But many churches who embrace this have not really gone this to re-evaluate the rest of theology from a non-individualized, privatized perspective. So, when we reach that point of belonging and also believing, we are still rehearsing a doctrine of salvation which is individaulistic, a discipleship focused on person piety, and a lack of social concern. (i'm probably just preaching to the choir on this one, but the next part is better.)

even in those churches which share this perspective insufficient attention is given to the community (i.e. ecclesiology). Too often there is the being or doing dichotomy, with the "modern" church as only concerned with doing (program based) and the "emerging church" as being (relationally based). This distinction misses the point. Those who focus on just "being" end up doing nothing and scorning those who have "structures" (those evil things). We ARE through what we DO, and vise-versa. Rather we should inquire into what "practices" a church has. Only since the enlightenment have we been able to distiquish between "being" and "doing," and this is because we have forgotten where we are going, we have no goal. The modern church forgot that the practices we engage in form us, even against our intentions. So, creating a program around needs created religious consumers, rather than disciples of Christ. Effectiveness, technique, and efficiency are values which may be against the gospel.

lastly, if we really believe in "belonging before believing," we have to embrace a type of sectarianism (or rather, that which gets disparaged as sectarian by those preoccupied with "engagement"), we have to move through Anabaptist theology, a movement beyond relevance. We can't really be "relevant" if someone has to join the community before you understand.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Conformity and Autonomy: Baudrillard and Emerging Leadership

In our world of imploding meaning, of information saturation, of media manipulation, Jean Baudrillard outlines our double bind, the dual demands of the system. The example is that of Children: they have the dual demand to be 1) autonomous individuals, conscious and free, or Subjects; and to be 2) submissive, inert, obedient and conforming, or Objects. Children are not yet Adults; but are not meant to stay Children.

Baudrillard explains that we have the same double bind in our society. 1) It demands that we conformed to its ways, manner, goals, and desires. Our resistance is expressed by becoming free-spirits, autonomous and emancipated; we become Subjects. He notes that this demand and its effect are universally valorized in our society. 2) But, our society also always demands that we constitute ourselves as liberated, democratic/consumer subjects, choosing our own destiny (products). We resist this by not becoming anything, by choosing nothing, through inertia and meaninglessness; we are Objects. This, according to Baudrillard is our consumer society situation.

What does this drive toward conformity and its resulting of autonomy, and the drive toward autonomy and its resulting conformity, have to say about our postmodern condition as emerging church leaders?

We have to recognize the dual bind of our situation with the post/modern church (within modernity and beyond). The first is the pressure of conforming modernity (fill in your favorite definition), the pressure of subjectivity (meaning both bias/personal/partisan, and subjugation/subjected). This results in an anti-modern reactionary perspective, a movement beyond, crashing through the self-important posturing of the powerful; or a Revolutionary Subject. The second is the pressure of liberating postmodernism (in all its colors and flavors), the pressure to express yourself, be yourself, be outside the box. This results in a conforming expression of individualism (even of the communal type) in which to be like no one else, we become no one, become nothing, and in our “like no one else-ness” we become like everyone. “I want to be different, like everyone else” becomes our motto; or a Replicated Object. So we are our worst conformity. (This is why much of the emerging/pomo church reads all the same books, links to all the same blogs, and have all the same big ideas, even me.)

Revolutionary Subject or Replicated Object: What is beyond this opposition? How can we release the pressure? How can we relieve the tension? Well, just as a child does, by growing up. We must grow beyond this tiring binary opposition, this reactionary operation, incising the old from new, the liner from loop, etc. from etc. As children, however, we can’t really grow up if we are only with other children, which is what we are. We must listen to more adult voices and follow more mature models. This means the mostly white emerging church movement (and really we are basically still children learning to talk—note all our discussions about words and language) needs to start listening to global voices and languages (Latina/o, African, Asian, African-American) as a means toward breaking out of the post/modern double bind (the binding of our tongues), as a means toward learning how to talk about/to the Word.

These thought brought to you by "The Implosion of Meaning in the Media" in Simulacra and Simulation.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Kneeling to the "Lord"

While on a spiritual retreat at a Franciscan friary, reading about the Lordship of Jesus in N.T. Wright's "What Saint Paul Really Said", I noticed time after time worshippers enter the sanctuary and then bow on one or both knees before sitting to pray. And they would bow again before leaving.

The Lordship of Christ is an affirmation or our fundamental allegiance to Him, a politically charged proposition, making a claim on us above all other rulers (economic/political/social/class). As a good evangelical I’ve been raised with an apolitical, ahistorical, individualized and privatized gospel. So why physically kneel when Jesus loves me and lives within me?

I didn’t kneel when I entered, but I did when I left.