Posted on April 30, 2011 by Scott Kistler
In his response to an article on the Rob Bell debate, Jamie Smith raised a couple of important points. First, he summarized the “hermeneutic” of evangelical universalists (those that argue that all people will be reconciled to God through Christ, regardless of their faith in this life) as having two basic commitments that shape their view of God:
- “I can’t imagine” that a God of love would condemn Gandhi to hell.” He notes that this is close to a justification by works approach and points to a good column by Catholic New York Times Ross Douthat on this subject, and notes that “The “I-can’t-imagine” argument makes man the measure of God, or at least seems to let the limits and constraints of “my” imagination trump the authority of Scripture and interpretation. I take it that discipleship means submitting even my imagination to the discipline of Scripture. (Indeed, could anything be more countercultural right now than Jonathan Edwards’ radical theocentrism, with all its attendant scandals for our modern sensibilities?)”
- “I don’t know if all will be saved but I hope this will be true.”
It’s Smith’s response to this second claim that makes his brief post one of the best responses that I’ve read in this controversy:
The “at-least-I-hope” strategy might seem less problematic. Doesn’t it just name what all of us secretly desire? Indeed, wouldn’t we be quite inhuman if we didn’t hope in this way?…
But whence this hope? Can our hopes ever be wrong? Let’s try an analogous example: I love my wife dearly. She is the best thing that ever happened to me, and our marriage has been an incredible means of grace in my life. I can’t imagine life without her; indeed, I don’t want to imagine life without her. And I want to hope that we will share this intimacy as a husband and wife forever.
But then I run into this claim from Jesus: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). Should I nonetheless hope that marriage endures in eternity? Should I profess that I can’t know this (since Scripture seems to suggest otherwise), but nonetheless claim that somehow hoping it might be true is still faithful? Or should I submit even my hopes to discipline by the authority of Scripture?
The new universalism is not the old universalism. Fair enough. But those of us who reject even the new universalism aren’t gleeful about it. We might even wish it were otherwise. But we also recognize that even our wishes, hopes, and desires need discipline.
Smith’s post also contains this passage. I just like the phrase “theological Burkean”:
Are these hopes and imaginings sufficient for me to set aside centuries of the church’s theological reflection on these matters? Is my chronological snobbery warranted? Just how do I think my hopes and imaginings are somehow more faithful and merciful and just than the generations upon generations of my forebears in the Christian faith? (I’ll confess to being a kind of theological Burkean: it’s very hard for me to imagine that I am smarter or better than Augustine or John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards. I’m not generally given to whiggish theology.)
Filed under: Scripture and Commentary | Tagged: James K.A. Smith, Rob Bell, theology, universalism | 3 Comments »
Posted on April 30, 2011 by Scott Kistler
I assigned a few chapters from Beverley Milton-Edwards and Peter Hinchcliffe’s Conflicts in the Middle East since 1945 (Routledge, 2008) for my Middle Eastern history course this semester. One of them briefly told the modern history of the Kurds, who I believe are the largest people-group in the world without an independent state. After Arabs, according to the chapter, they are the largest ethnic group in the Middle East.
The major theme of the chapter was the division that has hampered Kurdish nationalism. While they are mostly Sunni, there are Shia Kurds in Iran and also Christan and Yazidi Kurds. More significantly, the Kurdish homeland spans multiple countries: Turkey, Iraq, and Iran most prominently, with smaller communities in Syria and Armenia. This division between different states has made it difficult for Kurdish nationalist to cooperate across state boundaries and has resulted in Kurdish militias being used as proxies against their own governments: Iranian Kurds fighting the Iranian government with the support of the Iraqi government and vice versa in the 1970s and 1980s, and Syria reportedly wielding the Marxist PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) against Turkey.
Filed under: Middle East and Islamic World | Tagged: Beverley Milton-Edwards, Iran, Iraq, Kurds, Middle East, Peter Hinchcliffe, Syria, Turkey | 1 Comment »
Posted on April 17, 2011 by Scott Kistler
In the comments of this post, Kevin, Joel, and I discussed the importance of intergenerational contact in churches. I thought about that when listening to an old Speaking of Faith episode about Alzheimer’s where a psychologist discussed a writing group for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s to help them pass on their memories. Although it doesn’t come from a Christian perspective, I think that it could be adapted by Christians who wanted to minister to the elderly in their churches and communities. Here are some excerpts, and you can follow the link above for the full audio or transcript:
Dr. Dienstag: Well, I was running this group, this support group, for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and I got a call from someone who ran the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and who told me that there was someone who wanted to speak with me about a writing group for people with Alzheimer’s disease. And I immediately thought it was a bad idea….
I didn’t see how it could work. I thought that it was going to be stressful for people too dependent on a kind of facility for writing, and I just didn’t think it was a good idea. I think I had blinders on. I think I was really kind of limiting — I was limited in that respect. And when I got on the phone with Don [DeLillo], I asked him what his idea was. And he said, “Writing is a form of memory, and perhaps it would be helpful for these people to have access to that form of memory as well.” And that really struck me, because I never thought about writing that way….
It really is different. And so that just got me thinking about, well, you know, if there are different forms of memory and we’re only using one of them in this way of working with these people, maybe that’s just too limited and maybe we ought to really open up our minds a little bit to this and what the possibilities are that are inherent in this. And in thinking back to that as well, I think it’s really important for those of us in health-related professions to talk to people who are outside the bubble, as it were….
I mean, there we were in the room and they would write and they would finish writing and they would read and then they would — I asked them to give me what they wrote every time we met, and I did that because I knew they’d lose it, or I was afraid they’d lose it. I thought there was certainly a good chance they’d lose it. So there was a kind of a practical anxiety that was behind that technique, if you will. But once that pattern got established, I saw that there was an enactment of something else going on there that was very profound and that was that they were turning their memories over to us and these were people who might come back next week and not remember what they had written. So it’s a very therapeutic activity in that respect as well. And it was comforting to them.
Filed under: Church Life | Tagged: Alan Dienstag, Krista Tippett, ministry, Speaking of Faith | 3 Comments »
Posted on April 10, 2011 by Scott Kistler
Peter Leithart looks at Jesus’ exhortation to “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39 ESV). Returning to a theme expressed in a previous article, Leithart argues that following Jesus’ commands displays a transforming righteousness.
In this case, Leithart focuses on notions of masculine honor. The slap, he notes, is an insult rather than an assault, and he also contends that “verse 39 should be translated ‘Do not resist by evil means‘ rather than ‘Do not resist evil.’ ” I’d like to see a further analysis of this claim, but the main thrust of Leithart’s article is interesting:
Ultimately, Jesus is not teaching us to turn the cheek because it works. It does work, because it advances the kingdom by undoing cycles of violence and anger and revenge and honor, and opening up a way of reconciliation and restoration. But Jesus ultimately teaches us to turn the cheek because by doing so we follow Him and His example. Jesus teaches us to follow His own example, the way of the Suffering Servant: “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed” (Isaiah 50:6-7). Jesus – God Incarnate – took the second slap, endured both sides of the lex talionis, and He calls us to do the same.
Ecce homo. In fact, Behold Manhood, not the pseudo-strong manhood that retaliates against dishonor to return slap for slap, but the stronger manhood that absorbs the second slap and so embodies the righteousness of God.
Filed under: Scripture and Commentary | Tagged: Peter Leithart, Sermon on the Mount | 4 Comments »
Posted on April 10, 2011 by Scott Kistler
Peter Leithart notes Brian Brock’s argument that God doesn’t assemble experts to make the body of Christ, but rather bestows them in the community of believers:
Paul’s conception also differs because he emphasizes the delight that members of the body should take in their own weakness, weakness that allows other members to exercise gifts in service to them.
This means that leadership in the body is “precisely not to assemble an all-star cast from those who have proved to have skills valuable in the secular world, or who possess naturally authoritative qualities.” Rather, gifts are discerned in “prayerful seeking after the work of the Spirit who raises up those who will learn properly to render the service of authority.”
Filed under: Church Life | Tagged: Brian Brock, Peter Leithart | 2 Comments »