Monday, September 29, 2014

Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us


An economic system that rewards psychopathic personality traits has changed our ethics and our personalities            
theguardian.com,                 
 
City of London and Canary Wharf
'We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited.' Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
We tend to perceive our identities as stable and largely separate from outside forces. But over decades of research and therapeutic practice, I have become convinced that economic change is having a profound effect not only on our values but also on our personalities. Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatisation have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative. If you’re reading this sceptically, I put this simple statement to you: meritocratic neoliberalism favours certain personality traits and penalises others.

There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed.

It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can – you know a lot of people, you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt and you recently completed a major project. Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behaviour.

On top of all this, you are flexible and impulsive, always on the lookout for new stimuli and challenges. In practice, this leads to risky behaviour, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces. The source of inspiration for this list? The psychopathy checklist by Robert Hare, the best-known specialist on psychopathy today.

This description is, of course, a caricature taken to extremes. Nevertheless, the financial crisis illustrated at a macro-social level (for example, in the conflicts between eurozone countries) what a neoliberal meritocracy does to people. Solidarity becomes an expensive luxury and makes way for temporary alliances, the main preoccupation always being to extract more profit from the situation than your competition. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as does emotional commitment to the enterprise or organisation.

Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak – in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other.

Constant evaluations at work cause a decline in autonomy and a growing dependence on external, often shifting, norms. This results in what the sociologist Richard Sennett has aptly described as the “infantilisation of the workers”. Adults display childish outbursts of temper and are jealous about trivialities (“She got a new office chair and I didn’t”), tell white lies, resort to deceit, delight in the downfall of others and cherish petty feelings of revenge. This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults.

More important, though, is the serious damage to people’s self-respect. Self-respect largely depends on the recognition that we receive from the other, as thinkers from Hegel to Lacan have shown. Sennett comes to a similar conclusion when he sees the main question for employees these days as being “Who needs me?” For a growing group of people, the answer is: no one.

Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed. We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system.

A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal. For those who believe in the fairytale of unrestricted choice, self-government and self-management are the pre-eminent political messages, especially if they appear to promise freedom. Along with the idea of the perfectible individual, the freedom we perceive ourselves as having in the west is the greatest untruth of this day and age.

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman neatly summarised the paradox of our era as: “Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.” We are indeed freer than before, in the sense that we can criticise religion, take advantage of the new laissez-faire attitude to sex and support any political movement we like. We can do all these things because they no longer have any significance – freedom of this kind is prompted by indifference. Yet, on the other hand, our daily lives have become a constant battle against a bureaucracy that would make Kafka weak at the knees. There are regulations about everything, from the salt content of bread to urban poultry-keeping.

Our presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves. You don’t need to look far for examples. A highly skilled individual who puts parenting before their career comes in for criticism. A person with a good job who turns down a promotion to invest more time in other things is seen as crazy – unless those other things ensure success. A young woman who wants to become a primary school teacher is told by her parents that she should start off by getting a master’s degree in economics – a primary school teacher, whatever can she be thinking of?

There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.


T.F. Torrance and Union with Christ in Scottish Theology

Without exploring the entire history of Scottish theology as read through the eyes of Torrance, we may note a few key influences on his thinking about union with Christ from this context. Torrance believes that ‘Union with Christ probably had a more important place in [Robert] Leighton’s theology than that given to it in the thought of any other Scottish theologian.’ Torrance gives Leighton (1611-1684) praise for not considering union with Christ simply as a ‘judicial union’ but as a ‘real union’ which occupies the centre of the whole redemptive activity mediated through Christ as saving grace. Utilised in this way union with Christ is fundamentally related to both election in Christ and the concept of saving exchange whereby Christ gives to humanity what is his – his righteousness and filial status - and takes to himself what is not his own – our sin and alienation. In James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) Torrance identifies the same emphasis placed upon union with Christ, ‘It is through union and communion with [Christ], grounded in the “personal union” of his divine and human natures, that we come out of ourselves and partake of his fullness; we approach him empty to find all our salvation in the all-sufficient Lord Jesus.’ Thomas Boston (1676-1732) viewed union with Christ not merely as a legal union but a ‘real and proper union with ‘the whole Christ’ transformed through his death and resurrection, that is, a union of an ontological kind.’ Boston often spoke of this as a ‘mystical union’ in which all the benefits of the covenant of grace are given to the elect. Torrance traces these ideas back directly through Robert Bruce (c1554-1631), John Knox (1505-1572), John Calvin, and many others.
 
Of special interest to Torrance is H.R. Mackintosh (1870-1936). Torrance shows how Mackintosh in continuity with Calvin and the Scottish Reformed tradition, also made the concept of the unio mystica central to his soteriology. For Mackintosh, the concept of the unio mystica was merely a dogmatic restatement of the biblically rich material on the believer’s participatio Christi found throughout the New Testament, particularly in the ‘in/with Christ’ language of Paul and in the organic relationship between Christ and believers depicted in Johannine theology.
 
According to Mackintosh, mystical union effects a change in the believer’s identity. Through participating in Christ there is an ‘importation of another’s personality into him; the life, the will of Christ has taken over what once was in sheer antagonism to it, and replaced the power of sin by the forces of a divine life.’ There is a twofold objectivity about union with Christ: on the one hand, there is a ‘Christ-in-you’ relationship, and on the other there is a ‘you-in-Christ’ aspect. The former has to do with Christ being present within the believer as the source of new life, while the latter points to the foundation of this new life as lying outside of the believer in Christ. The union is mediated by the Holy Spirit. Torrance adopts these two aspects of participation in Christ into his own theology.
 
Mackintosh was attempting to postulate a union with Christ Jesus that went beyond the merely moral or ethical. Like Torrance, Mackintosh had reservations over using the term ‘mystical union’ (despite teaching its substance), but chose to define what he meant by unio mystica more willingly than discard the term altogether. By ‘mystical’ Mackintosh means, according to Redman, ‘that the believer’s relationship to Christ transcends human relationships and human experiences of solidarity and union.’ In place of a mere moral union Mackintosh presents a spiritual union that, while rational, is beyond human comprehension. By ‘union’ Mackintosh does not mean a complete identification in which Christ and the believer become indistinguishable; this would be an essential union, something found in the writings of some of the medieval mystics. Mackintosh was aware of the risk of pantheism and avoided this in his christology. Through participatio Christi, Mackintosh argues, one has communion with God as a human being because it is through union with the incarnate Christ that we come to commune with God. By defining union with Christ in such a way Mackintosh is in basic agreement with Calvin’s three senses of the term - incarnational, mystical, and spiritual. One can clearly see why Torrance is so attracted to Mackintosh’s theology.
In his critique of Mackintosh’s doctrine of the unio mystica Redman comments on his use of language. He argues that Mackintosh should have ceased using the language of mystical union and instead used concepts more akin to the essential logic of his theology, such as spiritual communion. Torrance perhaps agrees with Redman’s critique for he does not use the term ‘mystical union’ either, but retains the basic three-fold sense of union with Christ. Despite differences of terminology, Torrance considers his use of theōsis, both in terminology and in substance, conforms to a consistent theme of Reformed theology going back to Calvin and found particularly within the Scottish tradition.
 
Within this very specific trajectory of Reformed theology Torrance posits his own soteriology. Torrance articulates the dimensions of union with Christ in various ways but consistently he sees three realities involved. Firstly, there is union with Christ made possible objectively through the homoousion of the incarnate Son (Calvin’s ‘incarnational union’ ). Secondly, there is the hypostatic union, and its significance for the reconciling exchange wrought by Christ in his life, death, and resurrection (Calvin’s unio mystica). Finally, these two aspects of union with Christ are fulfilled or brought to completion in the communion that exists between believers and the triune God (broadly corresponding to Calvin’s ‘spiritual union’).
 
In a paraphrase of Torrance’s theology, Hunsinger presents three aspects which correlate approximately to our outline. Firstly, reception, a past event which involves what Christ has done for us. This is received by grace through faith alone. Secondly, participation, a present event, in which believers are clothed with Christ’s righteousness through partaking of Christ by virtue of his vicarious humanity. Thirdly, communion, the future or eschatological aspect which equates to eternal life itself in which believers enjoy communion in reciprocal love and knowledge of the triune God.
 
According to Torrance, union with Christ is not a ‘judicial union’ but a ‘real union’ which lies at the heart of the whole redemptive activity mediated through Christ as an act of saving grace. Torrance uses three words to elaborate what union with Christ means in his essay ‘The Mystery of the Kingdom’: divine purpose (prothesis), mystery (mystērion), and fellowship/communion (koinōnia). This triadic structure reflects the trinitarian action of the triune God: prothesis – the Father, mystērion – the Son, and koinōnia – the Holy Spirit. Prothesis refers to divine election whereby the Father purposed or ‘set forth’ the union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ. Divine election is a free, sovereign decision, a contingent act of God’s love; as such it is neither arbitrary nor necessary. Torrance thus holds to the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election, one which represents a strictly theonomous way of thinking, from a centre in God and not in ourselves. Torrance draws on certain aspects of Barth’s doctrine of election for he equates the incarnation as the counterpart to the doctrine of election so that ‘the incarnation, therefore, may be regarded as the eternal decision or election of God in his Love...’ Calling upon Calvin’s analogy, Torrance insists that ‘Christ himself is the ‘mirror of election,’ for it takes place in him in such a way that he is the Origin and the End, the Agent and the Substance of election...’
 
The second key expression Torrance uses is mystērion; the term is applied to Christ, and specifically to the mystery of his hypostatic union. In relation to God this means that the consubstantial union of the Trinity upholds the hypostatic union so that God does not merely come in man but as man. In this union of God and man a complete henosis between the two is effected, and they are ‘perfectly at one’.
 
He had come, Son of God incarnate as son of man, in order to get to grips with the powers of darkness and defeat them, but he had been sent to do that not through the manipulation of social, political or economic power-structures, but by striking beneath them all into the ontological depths of Israel’s existence where man, and Israel representing all mankind, had become estranged from God, and there within those ontological depths of human being to forge a bond of union and communion between man and God in himself which can never be undone.
 
Hence the hypostatic union is also a ‘reconciling union’ in which estrangement between God and humanity is bridged, conflict is eradicated, and human nature is ‘brought into perfect sanctifying union with divine nature in Jesus Christ.’
 
This atoning union is not merely external or juridical but actual, and points to the higher reality of communion. Hence Torrance can assert that:
it is not atonement that constitutes the goal and end of that integrated movement of reconciliation but union with God in and through Jesus Christ in whom our human nature is not only saved, healed and renewed but lifted up to participate in the very light, life and love of the Holy Trinity.
Union with Christ must be understood within Torrance’s doctrine of reconciliation to refer to the real participation of believers in the divine nature made possible by the dynamic atoning union of Christ. Torrance contends this is atonement in effect. As a result of the incarnation, humanity is united to divinity in the hypostatic union so that:
In the Church of Christ all who are redeemed through the atoning union embodied in him are made to share in his resurrection and are incorporated into Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit as living members of his Body...Thus it may be said that the ‘objective’ union which we have with Christ through his incarnational assumption of our humanity into himself is ‘subjectively’ actualised in us through his indwelling Spirit, ‘we in Christ’ and ‘Christ in us’ thus complementing and interpenetrating each other.
In addition to the hypostatic union Torrance applies the concept of mystērion to the mystery of the one-and-the-many, or Christ and his body the church. Torrance thus understands union with Christ to be largely corporate in nature but applicable to each individual member of his body who is ingrafted into Christ by Baptism and continue to live in union with him as they feed upon his body and blood in Holy Communion. Understanding the church as the body of Christ is thus another way of asserting an ontological union between the community of believers and Christ the Head.
 
The third term Torrance uses is koinōnia, and it too has a double reference. First, vertically, it represents our participation through the Spirit in the mystery of Christ’s union with us. Second, horizontally, it is applied to our fellowship or communion with one another in the body of Christ. At the intersection of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of koinōnia is the church, the community of believers united to Christ, who is himself united to humanity through the incarnation. Torrance asserts that ‘in and through koinonia the divine prothesis enshrining the eternal mysterion embodies itself horizontally in a community of those who are one with God through the reconciliation of Christ.’ It is this theology of union with Christ by means of fellowship or participation in God which links Torrance’s doctrines of soteriology and ecclesiology; both are aspects of his christology, as we shall see in more detail in the next chapter.
 
In summarising Torrance’s use of these three concepts Lee’s study helpfully concludes that ‘the cause (causa) of ‘union with Christ’ is prothesis, the election of God. Its substance (materia) is mysterion, the hypostatic union in Jesus Christ, and its fulfilment (effectus) is koinonia, the communion of the Holy Spirit.’ This outline focuses on the trinitarian foundation inherent throughout Torrance's work which reminds readers not to see the work of reconciliation as exclusively that of the Son, or the Son and the Spirit, but as the work of the triune God.

Monday Morning Confessional: Buechner, Rohr, Volf, and Faithful Remembering

 

remember

“One way or another, we are always remembering… there is no escaping it even if we want to, or at least no escaping it for long, though God knows there are times when we try to, don’t want to remember. In one sense the past is dead and gone, never to be repeated, over and done with, but in another sense, it is of course not done with at all or at least not done with us…” Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember.

I confess that the past few days have led me to question one of the fundamental teachings of Richard Rohr. Rohr has often said that God is really only present in the naked now. To experience God, we must stop reprocessing the past and dreaming about the future and be here and now, in the presence of God. He calls this prayer. While I most certainly agree that this is prayer, I think it more accurate to say this is one kind of prayer, one way that God meets us. It is important, but is not the full picture of prayer, nor is it the most important kind of prayer. There is no such thing because all of the forms prayer might take must work together.

I confess that I spent much of my week reading and thinking about human memory, remembering, and forgetting. I read an awful lot of Miroslav Volf, who has written extensively on healthy and unhealthy remembering and forgetting. I read and reread an essay called “A Room Called Remember,” by Frederick Buechner. Buechner is a singular argument for the necessity of remembering. The essay is prophetic, compelling. This has been one of the more enjoyable theological tangents I’ve explored in awhile.

I confess that I am struck by the fundamental bind memory presents.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/paperbacktheology/2014/09/monday-morning-confessional-buechner-rohr-volf-and-faithful-remembering.html

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Rambling through Romans (15): 3:9-20


So what are we saying? Are we better off? Not at all. We have already stated the charge: both Jews and Greeks are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written,

There is no righteous person, not even one.
11 There is no one who understands.
    There is no one who looks for God.
12 They all turned away.
    They have become worthless together.
There is no one who shows kindness.
    There is not even one.
13 Their throat is a grave that has been opened.
    They are deceitful with their tongues,
        and the poison of vipers is under their lips.
14     Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
15 Their feet are quick to shed blood;
16         destruction and misery are in their ways;
17         and they don’t know the way of peace.
18 There is no fear of God in their view of the world.

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, in order to shut every mouth and make it so the whole world has to answer to God. 20 It follows that no human being will be treated as righteous in his presence by doing what the Law says, because the knowledge of sin comes through the Law.

*************************************************************************

With all Israel’s gifts and graces, the Jews hold no advantage over the Gentiles with God (v.9).  Paul cites a series of Old Testament passages to back up his charge.  These texts leave little room for ambiguity on this (vv.10-18).  We’re all, Jew and Gentile, in the same boat here.

The Law, the Torah delivered to Moses and expounded in the first five books of the Old Testament, was given to Israel as its way of life appropriate to a people rescued by YHWH from Egypt by grace and by promise to Abraham and his family.  Its purpose was to order the life of the people to give glory to God and bear witness to his purposes for the world. For Israel, ever since the promise to Abraham and Sarah in Gen.12:1-3, has borne the duty and destiny of the world itself.   

But Paul also sees how the Law has actually worked out for Israel.  In default of obedience to it, Paul claims, the Law places Israel and the “whole world” Israel represents under judgment to God (v.19).  No human being, therefore, can ever establish themselves before God by performing the Law.  They cannot do it (as Paul has just demonstrated), and, in Paul’s view, the Law can only increase the knowledge of sin!

The Law can never do now what it was intended to do.  Indeed, it has been hijacked by sin to serve a purpose alien to itself.  It makes Israel (and thus the rest of us) aware of our unfaithfulness as God’s people and under judgment for this failure.  This is all it can do now, not because it is faulty, but because we are (as Paul will get to in ch.8).

10 Historical Myths About World Christianity

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mythbuster
 

In the first meeting of the postgraduate World Christianity course ‘Selected Themes in the Study of World Christianity’ held on 15 September 2014, Professor Brian Stanley presented what he perceives as the top ten historical myths about World Christianity.

1. Christianity is a western religion.It neither began in western Europe, nor has it ever been entirely confined to western Europe. The period in which it appeared to be indissolubly linked to western European identity was a relatively short one, lasting from the early sixteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The Church in China, India, Ethiopia, and Iraq is older than the Church in much of northern Europe.

2. Christian missions operated hand-in-glove with the colonial powers.Sometimes they did, but frequently they didn’t. Missions were usually critical of the way in which empires operated, mainly because they conceived of empire as a divinely-bestowed trust. True, they didn’t oppose colonial rule on principle, but then who did before the late 20th century?

3. Christianity was imposed by force on non-western people.If this were true, it would reduce non-western Christians – even today – to the status of passive
recipients of western ideological domination. In fact western missions never possessed the power necessary to achieve such capitulation, even if they wanted it, which they did not.

4. Protestant missions began with William Carey in 1792.John Eliot’s mission work among the Native Americans of New England began as early as 1646. The first Lutheran missionaries arrived at Tranquebar in South India in 1706. In his famous Enquiry (1792) Carey was insistent that he had many predecessors.

read more at http://www.cswc.div.ed.ac.uk/2014/09/10-historical-myths-about-world-christianity/

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Show-Off Society

September 25, 2014

Paul Krugman
Liberals talk about circumstances; conservatives talk about character.

This intellectual divide is most obvious when the subject is the persistence of poverty in a wealthy nation. Liberals focus on the stagnation of real wages and the disappearance of jobs offering middle-class incomes, as well as the constant insecurity that comes with not having reliable jobs or assets. For conservatives, however, it’s all about not trying hard enough. The House speaker, John Boehner, says that people have gotten the idea that they “really don’t have to work.” Mitt Romney chides lower-income Americans as being unwilling to “take personal responsibility.” Even as he declares that he really does care about the poor, Representative Paul Ryan attributes persistent poverty to lack of “productive habits.”

Let us, however, be fair: some conservatives are willing to censure the rich, too. Running through much recent conservative writing is the theme that America’s elite has also fallen down on the job, that it has lost the seriousness and restraint of an earlier era. Peggy Noonan writes about our “decadent elites,” who make jokes about how they are profiting at the expense of the little people. Charles Murray, whose book “Coming Apart” is mainly about the alleged decay of values among the white working class, also denounces the “unseemliness” of the very rich, with their lavish lifestyles and gigantic houses.

But has there really been an explosion of elite ostentation? And, if there has, does it reflect moral decline, or a change in circumstances?

Read more at http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/09/26/opinion/paul-krugman-the-show-off-society.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0&referrer

Eucharist: a wedding table decorated with a cross instead of a cake

 While the Eucharist has always been a consoling mystery with an ecstatic, mystical language surrounding it (such as “Happy are those who are called to the wedding feast of the lamb,” Revelation 19:7-9), it has also been clothed in the language of suffering, blood, and death.

It makes clear the connection that the mystics always confirm: there is an inherent link between love and suffering.

I think the tradition is correct in saying that somehow this mystery of the Eucharist is both festive meal and the inevitability of suffering for what we love.

So this wedding table is not decorated with a cake but with a cross.


Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2014/09/eucharist-a-wedding-table-decorated-with-a-cross-instead-of-a-cake/#ixzz3EWiTK2hh

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rambling through Romans (14): 3:1-8

3 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written,

“So that you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail in your judging.”

But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), “Let us do evil so that good may come”? Their condemnation is deserved!
 

Paul here engages in a bit of back and forth with an imaginary listener.

“What advantage has the Jew?” or “the value of circumcision?” (v.1), asks the listener.  “The oracles of God” (v.2), Paul replies.

As the people chosen by God for the sake of God’s blessing everyone else, the Jews are central to the story and work of God in and for the world.  They are the only people of whom this can be said.

But the Jews have been unfaithful, the listener objects.  Doesn’t this nullify that special status (v.3)?  No, answers Paul.  Or better, “Hell no” (as one of my Greek professors said this phrase is best rendered in colloquial English).  Human, Jewish, infidelity will not keep God from fulfilling his purposes!  And he quotes the Old Testament (Psa.51:4) in confirmation. 

But why should the Jews be punished if even their unfaithfulness serves God’s purposes (v.5)?  Where’s the fairness in that?  Unfaithfulness is still sin, Paul replies.  And God is still the judge (v.6).

The listener continues though, voicing a “slander” Paul has evidently heard in his missionary proclamation of the gospel:  “Let us do evil, then, so that good may come.”  Paul does not even dignify such an idea with a response.  Instead he brusquely dismisses it with a “Their condemnation is deserved!” (v.8).

Seems like a reasonable, or at least a logical, question, though.  Why does Paul dismiss it so summarily?

Because it shows no understanding of grace at all!  Grace binds us to God in a love-trust relationship such that we are adopted into his family in Christ.  We (should) no longer want to disappoint our Father or betray the family name we’ve been graciously given.  To even think in terms of presuming on God’s grace in this way is evidence enough that neither God nor his work in the world is understood.  This is a perversion of the gospel and can only be condemned.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Following the Science

From contraception to climate change, the quest to master nature will always put autonomy first.


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

In 2008, Sens. Obama and Clinton fell over each other with promises to “follow the science.” They were speaking particularly in criticism of President Bush’s ban on stem-cell research and Republican resistance to the widespread findings regarding anthropogenic climate change. By “following the science,” they promised, policy would no longer be the prisoner of “political” considerations—it would be decided based upon scientific findings.

Supporters of candidates Obama and Clinton knew exactly what was implied by that phrase—”following the science”—thus short-circuiting any real discussion of what, precisely, that phrase meant, and whether there was in fact any such thing as “following the science.” Obama and Clinton’s supporters knew exactly what policy prescriptions were implied in that phrase, and never stopped to ask questions such as, “should moral and ethical considerations guide decisions in the application of scientific research?” or, “should scientific research itself be subject to ethical and moral limitations?” or, “isn’t there a reason that public policy decisions are made by elected leaders who represent a variety of constituencies, and not scientists who may have a blinkered view of what their findings entail?” Does the fact that some sick people could benefit from kidney transplants justify opening a market in kidney purchases? What of signing up poor people to engage in risky medical research for significant compensation? What of using clones for organ harvesting? How does one, in such instances, “follow the science”?

read more at http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/following-the-science/

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Some thoughts on the Atonement - James Alison

A transcript of a talk given in Brisbane, Australia, in August 2004.

I'm going to try to defend a thesis with you: that Christianity is a priestly religion which understands that it is God's overcoming of our violence by substituting himself for the victim of our typical sacrifices that opens up our being able to enjoy the fullness of creation as if death were not.

The first thing that I ought to do, therefore, is to give you a brief account of what is traditionally called the substitutionary theory of atonement; of what we are up against; of what a certain crystallization of texts has thrown up that has kept us captive; and how we are going to try and move from a two-dimensional account to a three-dimensional account and see that actually all the creative lines in that story flow in an entirely different direction. So, here's the standard story, which I'm sure you've all heard before:

G-O-D: the Default Deity of Many Americans


If the God you worship, and I mean the real God you respond and relate to in your gut, if that God bears any or all of the following characteristics, you have the wrong God!  And I invite you to consider the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as we see him in action in the Jesus of Nazareth we meet in the pages of the gospels of the New Testament. 

Distant

Domineering

Demanding

Disapproving

Damning

It is the great achievement of Philip Pullman to have skewered and put to death this G-O-D in his Dark Materials trilogy.  It is this G-O-D who oversaw the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis in World War II.  It is this G-O-D whose death Nietzsche announced in the 19th century.  It was this G-O-D who required the murder of Jesus on the cross in the first century.

Take another look in the gospels at Jesus and behold the true and living God!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two Books on the Demise of the Western Liberal Tradition

Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism  Larry Siedentop
Allen Lane, 448pp, £20
Liberalism: the Life of an Idea 
Edmund Fawcett
Princeton University Press, 488pp, £24.95

All over the Atlantic world, political liberalism has fallen on evil days. In the US, the creed of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D Roosevelt and John F Kennedy has become a sin that dare not speak its name. In last year’s German election, the Free Democratic Party – the embodiment of the country’s liberal tradition and the second party in coalition governments for most of the postwar period – won less than 5 per cent of the popular vote and is no longer represented in the federal parliament. In the 2011 Canadian election, the Liberal Party – for decades a dominant force – suffered a catastrophic defeat. The Radical Party of the Left, today the closest approximation to a liberal party in France, is little more than a pimple on the body politic. In Britain, the Liberal Democrats, heirs of the Liberal Party of Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge, have clambered into bed with a market-fundamentalist Conservative Party and endured a huge slump in the opinion polls.
As Edmund Fawcett and Larry Siedentop show in different ways, the travails of political liberalism reflect a profound crisis of the liberal world-view. To put it crudely, it is no longer clear what liberalism means. Its core value is freedom – freedom for unconstrained individuals to choose for themselves. Freedom, however, is a notoriously slippery word. Freedom as a source of human flourishing is one thing; freedom to ignore the common good and exploit others is quite another. Positive freedom, or freedom “to”, is not the same as negative freedom, or freedom “from”. The great Liberal government of 1905-15 curbed the negative freedom of the privileged in order to enhance the positive freedom of the dispossessed.
Much the same is true of choice and the individual. Choices can be bad as well as good.
 

Great Prayer from Leonard Cohen

“Not Knowing Where to Go” (Book of Mercy)
reformatted into a leader/response litany by Brian Walsh:

Not knowing where to go,
I go to you.
Not knowing where to turn,
I turn to you.
Not knowing what to hold,
I bind myself to you.
Having lost my way,
I make my way to you.
Having soiled my heart,
I lift my heart to you.
Having wasted my days,
I bring the heap to you.
Blocked by every thought,
I fly on the wisp of remembrance.
Defeated by silence,
here is a place where the silence is more subtle.
And here is the opening in defeat.
And here is the clasp of the will.
And here is the fear of you.
And here is the fastening of mercy.
Blessed are you,in this man’s moment.
Blessed are you,whose presence illuminates outrageous evil.
Blessed are you,who brings chains out of darkness.
Blessed are you,who waits in the world.
Blessed are you,whose name is in the world.

What's Happening with the "Spiritual But Not Religious" Folks?

Scot McKnight relates Linda Mercandante's findings in her new book "Belief without Borders":

Instead of the traditional view of God, they transpose God into the sacred or divine self.
Instead of a sovereignty or freedom of God, they move into “readily accessible, even impersonal, divine energy” (232).
Instead of the traditional 3d person of the Trinity, the Spirit becomes “self-generating personal intuition” (232).
Instead of a savior figure or a prophet as in the major faiths, there are multiple gurus that help in self-healing.
Instead of trusting God, one trusts one’s inner voice.
Instead of praying to a God who listens, we have “self-generated positive thinking” (232).
Instead of the providential God, there is an “impersonal law of karma” (233).
Instead of guidance through God or tradition, there is self-guidance outside the tradition or intervention of God.
Instead of sin against God, it is about violating the authentic self.
Instead of justification as getting right with God, we have “getting into alignment with one’s own inner integrity” (233).
Instead of sanctification as the transforming work of God through the Spirit, we have “self-transformation and continuing self-improvement” (233).
Instead of holiness there is healing.
Instead of community and church we have the self.
Instead of spiritual gifts for the church we have “sacred power tools for the ongoing construction or revealing of the true self” (233).
Instead of worship there is a focus of the healing of the self.
Instead of tradition and authority there is “personal experience as final authority” (233).
Instead of commitment to one religious body there is “flexible, changing affiliations” (233).
Instead of an eternal life by the grace of God, there is “a seemingly endless journey, often through multiple lives or multiple realities” (233).

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/09/19/spiritual-but-not-religious-the-real-story/#ixzz3Du2BDpUM

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“The Top Ten Reasons This Will Never Work”: On Leading Change in the Church

 


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Several times, after presenting to a group of pastors on re-shaping the practice of the church for Mission, I lead a closing session where I ask pastors to share their top reasons for why “this will never work.” Last Spring I was in Nebraska leading a pastor’s workshop for the American Baptist Pastors, and during this session one of the pastors gave me his top ten reasons in written form. I think they are great. My apologies to the pastor who wrote this list because I do not have his name. The list is instructive as to what blocks congregations from change. Here’s the list in bold, along with my quick responses in italics. What other hurdles do you face in leading change in your church body? What responses might you have to this list?

1. “We’ve never done it that way before!”  And that’s possibly why we need to do this? Change requires doing something different than what has gone on before.

2. Unbelief in God’s power and presence.  If we would lead change at all, we must lead people into Christ’s presence via prayer and the Eucharist. It is the foundation of all transformation in the church.

3. “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” We must ask ourselves what does it mean for something ”to work” in God’s church, and how long we might have to wait  to see it happen. God is so excessively patient.

read more at http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/?p=4575

Saturday, September 13, 2014

But what about revolution? more notes on Christianity and society

Saturday, 13 September 2014
http://www.faith-theology.com/2014/09/but-what-about-revolution-more-notes-on.html
1. Injustice is bad. Anarchy is worse.

2. Revolution may be divided into two main types. Fast Revolution refers to the overthrow of political authority by a popular movement. Slow Revolution refers to the deep transformation of social institutions from within. The first type of revolution can occur overnight while the second occurs over several generations.

3. It is not advisable for any social theory to stipulate the precise conditions under which Fast Revolution would be justified. When dealing with exceptions to the rule, it is best not to try to regulate them within the bounds of a theory. However, a Christian theory of society ought to have a presumptive preference for Slow Revolution over Fast Revolution, and for stability over disorder, even while allowing that Fast Revolution might be legitimate in certain exceptional circumstances.

4. Fast Revolution may further be divided into two types: a popular revolt against political authority, and the overthrow of a bad ruler by subordinate lawful authorities. The first is an act of rebellion, the second an act of political responsibility. Calvin allowed for the second type – the defeat of tyranny through, and for the sake of, law. But he believed the first type is impermissible since lawlessness is an even greater evil than injustice. Christians, he noted, are able to live faithfully within many different kinds of social orders, including very unjust ones.

5. For the most part, Christianity has been a "revolutionary" force in society only in the sense of a Slow Revolution. The Christian message has the capacity to transform a society through the gradual reform of human relationships and institutions over many successive generations.

6. Historically, Slow Revolution has proved much more lastingly transformative than popular movements of Fast Revolution. In the great modern revolutionary movements, an initial period of terror and bloodshed is generally followed by a return to pre-revolutionary structures with minor modifications. As Crane Brinton has said of the French Revolution, "The blood of the martyrs seems hardly necessary to establish decimal coinage" (Brinton, Anatomy of Revolution).

7. Distinct from all these types of revolution is civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is not rebellion against political authority but an act of political responsibility in which some particular law is broken for the sake of another (more basic or more important) law, or for the sake of some widely shared value in a society. Christians have a long and illustrious history of civil disobedience. Martyrdom involved the dual act of submission to lawful authority (i.e. submitting to a penal sentence) and disobedience to the same authority (i.e. refusing to participate in the imperial cult). Even such an extreme form of civil disobedience was carried out on behalf of, and not against, the existing social order.

8. Where Christians have refused to participate in certain institutions, they have done so not in a spirit of rebellion but as a form of deeper social solidarity. Early hellenistic critics claimed that Christians posed a threat to the social order because of their refusal to serve in the army. Origen replied: "We help the emperor in his extremities by our prayers and intercessions more effectively than do the soldiers…. In this way we overcome the real disturbers of the peace, the demons. Thus we fight for the emperor more than the others, though we do not fight with him, nor at his command" (Origen, Contra Celsum).

9. Thus throughout its history the church has proved to be an "unreliable ally" in every social order (Karl Barth). As civilisations rise and grow old and eventually sink into ruin and decay, the Christian community renews itself continually through its gospel of a transcendent order of righteousness and peace. 

How Apple is Invading Our Bodies


With the unveiling of the Apple Watch Tuesday in Cupertino, California, Apple is attempting to put technology somewhere where it’s never been particularly welcome. Like a pushy date, the Apple Watch wants to get intimate with us in a way we’re not entirely used to or prepared for. This isn’t just a new product, this is technology attempting to colonize our bodies.
The Apple Watch is very personal—“personal” and “intimate” were words that Apple CEO Tim Cook and his colleagues used over and over again when presenting it to the public for the first time. That’s where the watch is likely to change things, because it does something computers aren’t generally supposed to: it lives on your body. It perches on your wrist, like one of Cinderella’s helpful bluebirds. It gets closer than we’re used technology getting. It gets inside your personal bubble. We’re used to technology being safely Other, but the Apple Watch wants to snuggle up and become part of your Self.
 

Friday, September 12, 2014

πίστις χριστοῦ, ‘Faith in Christ’ or ‘Faith of Christ': More on the Vicarious Humanity of Christ

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I have written, in the past, on the vicarious faith of Christ for us; and also had a guest post, here, by Myk Habets on the same topic. I want to further highlight this reality as it is presented for us in the Epistle of Galatians.

This continues to represent a hot topic in biblical and exegetical studies, and through this post, once again you will understand what I think about this. The issue has to do with what in the Greek is pistis Christou πίστις χριστοῦ –‘the faithfulness or faith of Christ’. So the issue of contention is whether this phrase should be translated ‘faith in Christ’ (the objective genetive in the Greek), or ‘the faithfulness or faith of Christ’ (the subjective genetive in the Greek); I opt for the latter translation (the subjective genetive)—here is a post wherein I deal head on with this issue Galatains 2.20, Vicarious Humanity and Faith, and Interpretive Tradition in Evangelical Calvinist ExegesisJ. Louis Martyn is an exegete front and center in this debate; he writes:
I live in faith, that is to say in the faith of the Son of God. The place in which the I lives this new life is not only that of everyday human existence but also and primarily the place of faith (the stress lies on the end of the sentence). Were it only the former, it would not be life “to God” (v. 19). Were it only the latter it would be a futile attempt to escape the specific place in which one was called (I Cor. 7:20-24).
But what is this newly created faith-place? A linguistic clue is found in the degree of parallelism between Gal. 2:20 and Rom 5:15:

Gal 2:20                                                                           Rom 5:15
(and the life I now live in the flesh)                        (and the free gift abounds)
I live in faith,                                                                     in grace,
namely the faith of the                                                  namely the grace of
Son of God . . .                                                                    Jesus Christ

to read more:  http://growrag.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/%CF%80%CE%AF%CF%83%CF%84%CE%B9%CF%82-%CF%87%CF%81%CE%B9%CF%83%CF%84%CE%BF%E1%BF%A6-faith-in-christ-or-faith-of-christ-more-on-the-vicarious-humanity-of-christ/
 
 

Living in a World of “Little Boys With Their Porno”

 


Karl Barth and N.T. Wright Side by Side on Philippians 2:5-11 and the ‘Emptying’

 


Here is the pericope under consideration by both Karl Barth and N.T. Wright, respectively:
kenosis5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~Philippians 2:5-11

Here is how Barth comments on the reality of this passage:
 
Positively his self-emptying refers to the fact that, without detracting from his being in the form of God, he was able and willing to assume the form of a servant and go about in the likeness of a human being, so that the creature could know him only as a creature, and he alone could know himself as God. In other words, he was ready to accept a position in which he could not be known in the world as God, but his divine glory was concealed from the world. This was his self-emptying…. His deity becomes completely invisible to all other eyes but his own. What distinguishes him from the creature disappears from everyone’s sight but his own with his assumption of the human form of a servant with its natural end in death, and above all with his death as that of a criminal on the cross…. He can so empty himself that, without detracting from his form as God, he can take the form of a servant, concealing his form of life as God, and going about in the likeness of a human being…. It all takes place in his freedom and therefore not in self-contradiction or with any alteration or diminution of his divine being…. This means that so far from being contrary to the nature of God, it is of his essence to possess the freedom to be capable of this self-offering and self-concealment, and beyond this to make use of this freedom, and therefore really to effect this self-offering and to give himself up to this self-humiliation. In this above all he is concealed as God. Yet it is here above all that he is really and truly God. Thus it is above all that he must and will also be revealed in his deity by the power of God. [Karl Barth, CD II/1, 516-17 cited by George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, 86-7, Nook version.]

And then N. T. Wright on the same passage and reality:
 
Let’s clear one misunderstanding out of the way in case it still confuses anybody. In verse 7 Paul says that Jesus ‘emptied himself’. People have sometimes thought that this means that Jesus, having been divine up to that point, somehow stopped being divine when he became human, and then went back to being divine again. This is, in fact, completely un-true to what Paul has in mind. The point of verse 6 is that Jesus was indeed already equal with God; somehow Paul is saying that Jesus already existed even before he became a human being (verse 7). But the decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience, obedience to the divine plan of salvation, yes, all the way was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine. [N. T. Wright, Paul For Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 84, Nook version.]

Critical Reflection

Both Barth and Wright affirm the traditional (and dare I say contextual) sense of this text;

read more at  http://growrag.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/karl-barth-and-n-t-wright-side-by-side-on-philippians-25-11-and-the-emptying/

Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology?

 

 

"Chicken or the Egg?" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
“Chicken or the Egg?” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
This drawing is inspired by the Ouroboros snake.

What came first? The chicken or the egg?

What came first? The thug or the theology?

I read Tony Jones’ thoughts on Mark Driscoll. Jones has always admired Driscoll, maybe envies him a little, wants the best for him, believes he can be redeemed, and suggests that things can be restored.
What I found most interesting though is that Jones believes the problem with Driscoll is theological.
  • He titles his post is “Thoughts about Mark Driscoll”
  • He talks about the “heady” days of publishing and speaking.
  • He dismisses his disturbing personality traits by his use of the word “sure”.
  • He says it isn’t a moral issue (evil) but that he is passionate.
  • He says more than once that Driscoll is “extremely smart” or “brilliant”.
  • He suggests that he will “see” (as in “think”?) his way out of this.
  • He writes that Driscoll has just embraced a toxic version of theology.
  • He hopes that Driscoll will turn away from this toxic theology.
  • He concludes therefore that Driscoll is not the problem, but his theology.

But my question is…

What came first? The thug or the theology?

 
- See more at: http://nakedpastor.com/2014/09/tony-jones-on-mark-driscoll-what-came-first-the-thug-or-the-theology/#sthash.k6wbOgk3.s0Z2IBxM.dpuf