Category Archives: theology

Why Ravens?

Ravens are important in many cultures and harbingers in more than one religion. It  is not hard to see why. Anyone who has spent a moment listening or watching must be struck with curiosity at what these aerial acrobats are about.  two ravensThey are among the most intelligent of birds. They are social, and talkative, with a complex language that shows regional dialects. Few animals show as much love for their own abilities as these birds. They fly, and they are aware how cool it is they do so. Drifting on a warm updraft, diving through a valley, riding the wind of battered air in storms and fire, wrestling with each other midair, they exult in their mastery of the sky.

A pagan site speaks of these totemic birds:

If a raven totem has come into our life, magic is at play. Raven activates the energy of magic and links it to our will and intention. With this totem, we can make great changes in our life; the ability to take the unformed thought and make it reality. The raven shows us how to go into the dark of our inner self and bring out the light of our true self; resolving inner conflicts which are long been buried. This is the deepest power of healing we can possess.

Though a mish-mash of do it yourself religions, this speaks of distant understandings, held by many peoples throughout time.

Norse mythology, of course, prominently features two ravens, companions of Odin, bearers of knowledge and information. Thought and memory is the meaning of their names. They are the embodied soul of the All-Father, whispering from his shoulder the goings on of the wider world. The Edda, an epic Norse poem, states:

The whole earth over, every day, hover Hugin and Munin; I dread lest Hugin droop in his flight, yet I fear me still more for Munin.

Because of these constant companions Odin has been called the Raven god.

This he is not.

Long before the Norse laid claim to mystical tales and the gold of other lands, the God of Israel revealed himself to be Lord and protector of all, even the ravens.

“He gives to the animals their food,” Psalm 147:9 reads, “and to the young ravens when they cry.”

“Who provides for the raven its prey,” God asks Job rhetorically, “when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?”

He was answering Job out of the storm in chapter 38, replying to Job’s complaints not by direct answers, but by showing his character and power.

In return ravens served the God of Israel. Noah sent out a raven, which flew back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Ravens being what they are, it appears this one left the constraints of the boat for its own tasks. A dove was the next messenger, the one which came back.

The prophet Elijah ran into many troubles as he spoke the words of God to those who did not want to listen. He had power over wind and rain, and God had power over him. Savoldo Elijah Fed by the RavenA drought began, which parched the land.

In chapter seventeen of 1 Kings we read:

Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan River. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.

So, he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith valley, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

This is a website for those who now live near the Kerith, a place where water rushes through a narrow valley. God is calling many back as his own, and in doing this places them for a time in the midst of the wilderness, with drought and famine all around. There is water to drink, if it is sought, and food to eat by God’s gracious hand.

Many paths in this world lead onwards, but only one leads to the end. One travels with a goal in mind, and only those paths which take one to the expected end have perfect merit. There is only one path, the Way. Yet, along this path many sights are shared.

Forgotten views are highlighted elsewhere. Other paths may intersect, leading to their own interesting sights. Some travel far along, others stop very short. So, while there is only one way to the end, all others are worth consideration. For like the tale of ravens they remind us of our own stories, pointing us back to forgotten truths.

The Christian faith is ancient, laying claim to its history and the history of the Jewish people prior to the coming of the Messiah. The modern representations have lost much of the purview, limiting to specific words and angrily repulsing other voices. All truth is God’s truth. All those who hear truth, hear Yeshua. The Spirit moves wide and broad, teaching, reaching, grasping, enlightening. With an eye on the goal, and an open ear to hear the words which others speak, we walk together along the Way.

Moses knew this path. Into the wilderness and out he led the people, fully committed to the word of God, fully dedicated to the One who saves. To Hobab, son of Reuel the Midianite, he said this:

We are on our way to the Promised land. Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has given wonderful promises to Israel! But Hobab replied, No, I will not go. I must return to my own land and family. Please don’t leave us, Moses pleaded. You know the places in the wilderness where we should camp. Come, be our guide and we will share with you all the good things that the LORD does for us.

RaveninflightNot of the people of God, but welcomed. Hobab knew what they did not, and could assist. In return, should he add his wisdom to their promises he would receive ‘good things.’ So we stand firm in our faith, with a listening ear and open mind to the work of the Spirit beyond our own understanding, trusting that it is he who draws people more than we. And thus we continue on the Way, trusting God will send ravens to bring food, everyday.

I wrote this about 6 or 7 years ago and it’s been a page on my website, though one rarely visited.  As I prepare for this new year, and all it entails, I thought it a fitting way as I renew my focus and thoughts.

Posted in personal, theology, writing | 2 Comments

Unsatisfying churches? Or maybe a real reason millenials (and others) are leaving the church

Jane McGonigal has a very interesting book called Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

McGonigal is a video game designer. What does she know about getting people involved? Well, 174 million Americans are gamers, boys and girls, men and women, who play video games. If you are under about 45, then you almost certainly grew up playing video games.

Now they are ubiquitous. All sorts, with all kinds of goals. In fact, some of the most profitable apps on smart phones or tablets are games. Designers are in it for the creativity, sure, and with this there’s an immense amount of psychology and overall understanding of human nature.

They’re not in it just for the creativity, however, there’s an immense amount of profit. So, game designers are, we might say, on the leading edge of what draws people in and what keeps them coming back for more.

Many games aren’t isolated experiences either, with some of the most popular being online multiplayer worlds, forming whole communities in the process. And there’s an immense amount of time and energy involved, involving intricate collaboration, mastery of skills, repeated application and practice, growth, development.

Why am I mentioning this with a title focused on the church? world-of-warcraftWell, these are the sorts of expressions that fills the rhetoric of pastors in sermons across the country, and world. Learn, grow, community, practice, express.

McGonigal notes the success of a game like World of Warcraft [a game which I’ve actually never played]. “Every single day,” she writes, “gamers worldwide spend a collective 30 million hours working in World of Warcraft.” Why?

Here’s her explanation:

Although we think of computer games as virtual experiences, they do give us real agency: the opportunity to do something that feels concrete because it produces measurable results, and the power to act directly even if what they’re manipulation is digital data and virtual objects. Until and unless the real work world [the church, maybe?] changes for the better, games like WoW will fulfill a fundamental human need: the need to feel productive.

That’s what it takes for work to satisfy us: it must present us with clear, immediately actionable goals as well as direct, vivid feedback. World of Warcraft does all of this brilliantly, and it does so continuously.”

John Wesley, I think, had an intuitive grasp of this. Sanctification coupled with communal feedback provided a form of continuous actionable goals. The early church, and many churches around the world to this day, had the challenge of martyrdom, where faith is constantly tested and faith either broken or built.

Most churches today operate with a very passive model. There’s very little actionable quests, almost an entire lack of direct, vivid feedback.

Should there be changes that reflect what game designers understand and put into practice? Could churches be the ultimate role-playing game? That’s the sort of stuff I’m thinking about tonight.

Posted in church, communitarian view, psychology, religion, spirituality, theology | 2 Comments

Sessions with Moltmann

In May 2011, I had a chance to talk with Jürgen Moltmann in his study in Tübingen. I recorded our three conversations, but never posted them. This was research material for my dissertation. 03

Now that the dissertation is written and passed, I think now is a good time to post those interviews for anyone who is interested.

May 17-19, 2011 in Tubingen, Germany
Session One — May 17

Session Two — May 18

Session Three — May 19

In connection with the interview, I wrote a paper that gives context and provides a loose transcript of the conversations.

Posted in academia, adventures, Moltmann, theology | 2 Comments

The Frenzy and The Void

There are two concepts that have been defining concepts for my theology and spirituality the last ten years or so: Frenzy and Void.

Now, these aren’t included in any other list that I know of. They’re not in the classical list of seven (or eight!) deadly sins. They’re not sins, I suppose, but I suspect one or the other is at the root of just about everything that is a sin.

I’ve occasionally described life with God, discernment and the Christian life, like autopia. There’s a rail that keeps you going a certain direction. If you let go of the steering wheel you’ll go the same basic way, but will be bumped back and forth as the car keeps crashing against the rail, going back and forth, right and left, crashing your way forward. Or you can steer and get where the track leads without hitting anything.

On the right is the Void, on the Left is the Frenzy.

Or maybe it’s front and back. Behind you is the Void, chasing after you. Ahead of you is the Frenzy, something you feel a need to chase after.

Up and down? The Void swallows you up from below. The Frenzy burns you up from above.

Looking back these have been with me my whole life. I suspect they are with most people. It wasn’t until I finished seminary, however, that I started discovering them for what they were.
The Void was the first one I named. Not that it was my name. I first found it named in a book by James Loder, who himself pulled the idea from Kierkegaard. I’ve since read more of Kierkegaard (though far from enough). At this point, a lot of theology discussions would go on to talk about Kierkegaard. But Kierkegaard isn’t really the point. Indeed, Kierkegaard just used good words to describe a much older awareness. The Void is all through the Bible. And in the writings of the church. And in writings found in all sorts of places.

It’s that gaping maw, that awareness of nothingness, of meaninglessness, emptiness. It’s that whisper that says God is not. We run from the void, we distract ourselves, we busy ourselves. In our quiet, still moments though, it’s there, gazing at us, suggesting it is all there is. Run.

So we run. We act brave. We talk about depths, and patience, and faith, and hope. Then the Void shows itself. We run. Run away.

The Void sought me out after I had finished seminary. It had been there all along, to be sure, leading me variously into depression or activity. When I finished school, however, when my church made clear it had no space or desire for me (a couple of elders pretty much said this directly), I didn’t have a direction to focus my energy. I paused. I was stilled. The Void opened its gaping maw and reminded me of my failures, my meaninglessness, my unpayable loan debts (I’m still a bit worried about this one). Do something. Do anything. Run. I tried joining the army. Run.

Felt there was no guidance from God. There was, but the Void was louder. Make yourself useful. Do something noble that is impressive to self and others. PAY OFF THE STUDENT LOANS, OR THEY WILL SWALLOW YOU. I told God that if he didn’t want me to do this, he would stop me. My blood pressure put me on pause in the process, high like never before when at a physical. My left knee ended it. Torn ACL when playing basketball.

The Void was silent, it’s always silent, but stared deeply, wider and thicker and closer than ever before, overtaking me like a wave just offshore. Swim! Run! Escape. Play the part. Make sense. Live to pay rent, go to nice restaurants, distract myself with suits, shoes, outings. Run. If you don’t run, you will be exposed for what you truly are. Nothing. Empty. Wasted. The Void threatens us with all our fears and threatens to expose our weaknesses to others. “I know who you are,” the Void says. “Who you really are.” Run.
I looked at that life ahead of me. And I stopped. I turned around. Let the Void crash over me. Everybody saw my weaknesses: my lack of perseverance, my waxing depression, my introversion, my… well, this isn’t a place to list all of that.

I moved to the mountains. Everyone thought I had given up. Precisely what I didn’t do. I stopped giving in to the Void, to its whispers, to its condemnations, to its threats. I stopped running. I was tired of running. I faced the Void.

The Void never really goes away, however. It’s still a whisper, a burn, an impenetrable wall of fog and shadow, a belly in which a person is digested for a thousand years. The difference now is that I recognize it. I call it out. I speak its name. I confront it. Sometimes I lose. But I’m getting stronger at facing it.

On the other side is the frenzy. I’m not sure where I got that word. I know that the concept found a place in my ponderings when I was reading the Philokalia, a set of books that collects the writings of Eastern Orthodox monastics from throughout the centuries.

The frenzy is that temptation to do more, be more, have more. More, more, more. It’s the competition, the ego-satiation, and more. It’s the feeling that if something needs doing, you must do it, because everyone else is doing it that way, and that way must be the way to do it. Work more, plan more, fret more. Hither and thither, running yourself dry and moving farther still. Getting caught up in what everyone else is doing and how they’ve done it, checking boxes off the constantly expanding list.noid

God helps those who help themselves and that means must really help those who go above and beyond doing all they can do. All things to all people, constantly on the go. Perform. Earn. Fight. Even relaxing becomes a competitive experience: better food, better pictures, better beds, better and more, more and better. Facebook it. Instagram it. Tweet it. Blog it. Share it. Post it. Drawn into the web of frenzy, one draws others. Dance, monkey, dance.

Often these are distractions, often they are good things, justifiable things, things people celebrate us for. “I don’t know how you find the time,” they say, wooing our sense of self to greater heights. There isn’t time. There’s just frenzy. Because if we stop, there’s Void. We prove ourselves, prove our worth, defend ourselves, “We deserve it!”. Frenzy begets frenzy, chaos is our comfort… because at least it’s something.

Sin enters in through the portals of Void or Frenzy. Lost in the nothingness or consumed by the busyness, we lose sight of our own true self. The self that God knows fully. “I know who you are,” God says. “And I love you.” We don’t believe him. Or if we do, we don’t trust him.

Void and Frenzy lead us away from the garden, into the place of disobedience, the far country, joining the pigs at the trough.

Void and Frenzy are present in every part of our life, every theme and every goal, undermining our hopes or leading us to accomplish them without God. They are what we know, our knowledge of good and evil, giving us a perverted discernment about how to respond. sharkfrenzy

Void and Frenzy are with us, to the end of the world.

Void and Frenzy are the wolves. I lack everything. They lead me to parched pastures, to stormy waters, they disturb my soul. They guide me to wrong paths, thorny paths, for my name’s sake.

When I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear every evil, for Frenzy and Void are with me, robbing me of joy and peace.

They are at every point. Death and decay. Rot and annihilation. The eternal fires burning us up even now, every part of our life.

Which is why we need nourishment, renewal, transformation in every part of our life, thorough, not segmented.

We need oxygen to every part, saving us, resurrecting each element of our life anew. New birth in ambition, new birth in relationships, new birth in sense of self, new birth in every part of our life.

What brings this transformation? Salvation in Christ is the new birth. The Spirit works, moves, breathes into, freeing us from the Void and the Frenzy. The community of the Spirit, the Body of Christ, is the fellowship of the newly born, those who are maturing into being a new person, a new people.

Which is why arteries are not enough. They carry the life only so far, to apportioned parts, to cubbyholes, to major segments. But they’re too thick to reach everywhere. If the body only had arteries, there would be blood and maybe life, but decay would always be present, necrosis ever-present.

Frenzy and Void are thorough, ever present, and so too must be the response, the renewal. Arteries and Capillaries. Formal churches and missional movements.

Posted in church, musings, sins, spirituality, theology | 1 Comment

Arteries and Capillaries

Over the last many years, I’ve become interested in complexity.  No, not in order to make difficult that which should be easy, nor to add yet more layers of analysis to what are already indecipherable experiences.

Sort of just the opposite. That which is easy is very often not so simple.  Yet, we try to make it simple, and devolve into very remedial explanations that fit some conception of the world, but not a real like conception.  Our ethics and structures are far too often functioning in an 8-bit world when there’s 64-bits — really much, much more — in the architecture. In understanding the complexity, we embrace the reality, in which the simple is complex, and embracing the complexity is embracing the simplicity, experiencing what is beautiful.

arteries and capillaries

It’s an different kind of simplified reality that we use to deal with most of the world, reductionistic rather than complex. We’re a binary people, on or off, good or bad, do or don’t, wrong or right.  Then there’s the nuance people, which is where a lot of theological ethics tends to land, which makes everything a mish-mash of colors, turning everything gray.

Those are the traps in theology. We  create dogmatic stands on complex issues, oftentimes doing so in a way that aligns us, curiously perfectly, with political or social forces in our surroundings.  Or we use a whole lot of words to say very little except how complicated things are, and we should see both sides, and buy my book.

We are also extremely compartmentalized.  That’s church stuff, that’s business stuff, that’s God stuff, that’s me stuff, that’s my stuff, that’s your stuff, that makes me me, that doesn’t make you you or me.  Theology does that too.  Here’s the church stuff, let’s formulate that. That’s the stuff about Jesus, let’s stack this here. Here’s the bit on creation, that fits over by that wall. Here’s the Holy Spirit, where do we put that?
cubby holes
Now about salvation, here are your four steps that have very little to do with anything else I’ve mentioned but can be supported by five individual verses and so have to be the way things are.  And here’s who can be in charge, and there’s a verse on that, and because there’s a verse on that, we don’t have to think about what it means in terms of Jesus, or Creation, or Spirit, or salvation, or any of the rest because the answer is clear as day and I’m in charge or can use really big words so be quiet.

Church stuff is settled, we meet on Sundays, have an hour or so of busyness, a couple guys stand up front, do a varying array of semi-mystical expressions, everyone sits or stands or occasionally replies with a scripted response.  Some people are challenged or renewed or encouraged, others fulfill their obligation for the week, alleviating just enough religious guilt to keep God out of most of the rest of their lives until the next week.

The Body and the Blood.  More like an automaton. Gears and levers and tubes filled with a viscous enough liquid that keeps things from binding up. Turn the switch, it stands up. Pull the level, air blows through the bellows and it speaks. Don’t mind the man behind the curtain, it’s the people, the people!, who are participating. Everyone in their cubbyhole, in their place and program and category, two or three times a week. automaton

Very orderly. Can compile statistics about growth and involvement and giving and such. Put those in tables, tweak the numbers, pad the accounts, we’re all doing great. Why isn’t society listening to us? Hey! We’re still big, it’s the culture that’s gotten small.

Lest this seem like my litany of complaints about the church, it’s not. Like with yesterday’s post, there’s a bit of carthartic release just in the writing to be sure, but there’s something more. I go to a big church, one with staged worship, and manicured landscaping, and new seats that don’t clang when someone gets up to go to the bathroom in the middle of a sermon. I’ve even preached at times!

I’m in a Sunday School class, that remnant of once-care for the outcast and poor that has turned into yet another intellectualizing seminar for the relatively put together. I’m a member of that. Not because there are no other options. Not because I’m an ecclesial hipster who likes to hang around a traditional church in an ironic way, making snide remarks on my own or with other cool kids.

I go there because I believe that’s where God has me. Because of obedience. Now, the latter is going to be a rising theme hereabouts, so make not of it. Especially because obedience is grating on our sense of personal identity. Everything has to have an explanation, or it’s considered oppressive and degrading. So we want to explain. To put everything to the test. The test of what it means for my own sense of self. Which is why pastors like church services so much, you know, they’re the most important person at them. But, is explanation required? Does God explain to the people every time he has them do something? Or tells them not to do something? Rarely. But we expect it even still.

So that it makes sense and so by making sense we can put it in a particular file, label it with just the right title, then arrange it into the correct cubby hole, so that when we need to refer to that topic we know where to look. Here are my ethics. Here’s my finances. Here’s my relationships. Here’s my use of time. Here’s my house. Here’s my sexuality. Here’s my diet. Here’s my view on what happened in Florida or what happened in China. Here’s this and here’s that. Our ticky-tacky made out to be independent by giving it progressive names so that we’re not like those people but are entirely different by being exactly like this other group of people.

We are all conformists but we conform in different ways with different groups with each cubby hole, the file giving the instructions on who is the right guide for that part of our life.

This then fulfills our expectations for explanations. It’s enough that this is how it should be. It’s how we approach a lot of life, the appearance of freedom and complexity belaying the fact we’re simple sheep, with a multiplicity of different shepherds leading us different directions. That’s true with church too, you know.

The Law doesn’t make sense so we celebrate our freedom, except when the law is also part of our cultural sense of self so we give in an explanation that may or may not fit with reality. Going to church on Sundays is what people do, so we do it, and we do it because going to church is transforming because you’re going to church. When people see us go to church, they’ll say, “Hey! that’s a person that goes to church, I should go to church too because they are showing me what it is like to live as a person in our era and in our society.”

That’s what we like to tell ourselves at least. That going to church is transforming and going to church distinguishes us from people who don’t go to church and we’re better at being people because we go to church. That’s not why I go to church. I have very low expectations of what a Sunday morning might mean for me. I’m not closed off to it, but I don’t look for that to be my spiritual resource for the week.

Going to church has just as often encouraged my shadow sides as it has my light-filled side. Ambition. Competition. Performance. Pride. Envy. Gluttony? Anger. Acedia. Greed. There’s the list. Check off how many are fostered. Even as there are just as often encouragements and real expressions of lived faith that serves as a beacon, a model, a guide for me and others.

Church is a mixed bag. Just like the rest of life.

God said to us that our church was where we needed to go. And even in the midst of the frustrations I find myself wanting to be obedient. Because obedience in the context of relationship is an expression of trust.

And I want to trust. I want to trust that God is doing a work in and among this world, in my community, in my family, in my life.

Yet, I don’t want it to be a blind trust. I don’t think that is my calling. But in obedience I am drawn into an analysis that pushes me to be involved even where I might otherwise be disdaining. Because disdain is not a fruit of the Spirit, and God leads us to places so that we might learn and grow. I am finding in the big church experience all sorts of insights and lessons, and most importantly particular people, people are part of the body, finding their way in the blood, moving along the arteries. People who I can teach and who can teach me, who I can help and who can help me, people who I don’t trust and don’t trust me, but maybe we’re willing to test those boundaries a bit and see what happens.

And in my learning and growing, I’m thinking about complexity, and the inter-relationality of all things, and arteries and capillaries. Which has shaped my view of theology and my view of church to move away from the binary of this or that, horrible and wonderful, into finding how a multiplicity of forms and structures contribute to the more thorough transformation of our own life, families, and communities.


This means that my understanding of theology and my understanding of the church is coalescing into a shared approach, both informing each other, both needing to find reactive response to not only big, compartmentalized issues but also interrelated with all the other participants, themes, and scales. My view of the atonement radically affects how I think a church should be structured. My view of the Spirit radically affects my understanding of atonement. My experiences and challenges are shaped by and in turn fill in my perception of the Spirit. How God creates ties together my view of election, and eschatology, and what I should do when I gather intentionally with other believers.

Trust, obedience, faith, hope, love.

I’m not a big church guy. I’m, at heart, an embedded, missional, emerging sort of guy. Who God first led to the mountains to experience a semi-monasticism far from formal ecclesial connections, and then led me into the city where I became part of a local mega church, filled with all the sorts of good citizens — some of the world, some of the Kingdom, a few of both — that make it important in the church world. Is it where God will have me stay? Maybe not. But I suspect that if I go it will be with an interest in expanding rather than separating from that ministry. Arteries and capillaries. Mission and theology.

Posted in church, musings, spirituality, theology, Transforming Theology | 1 Comment

Finding roots when rootless

I’m feeling distinctively rootless these days. I’ve graduated my PhD program. But I don’t have a full time job. We’re living in a place that has a lot of benefits, mostly related to relative quiet, but a fair amount of inconveniences–one bedroom, no air conditioning, meaning it’s particularly inconvenient (okay, fairly miserable) when it is hot and particularly unsettled when I think about Vianne’s situation (we’ve made a space for her, but it’s not something that can be useful for too much longer).

I work a fair amount, teaching a number of classes, but no job security or expectations are offered by either Fuller or Azusa. Meaning I work quarter by quarter, not able to plan. We had to change pediatricians, because California ended its great program for kids in families with limited means, and cast everyone onto Medicare, which is accepted by a significantly smaller amount of doctors. Amy and I have very minimal benefits, enough to get us in a hospital but not something that encourages anything near checkups or minor issues (I get very Pentecostal again when I lack good insurance…). My car had an overheating problem when we came back from our trip last week, as a sixteen year old Honda Civic coupe, this isn’t surprising. It’s already too small for more than two people, but it’s the car we have and the car that gets us to the places we need to be.

My PhD was paid for entirely by fellowships, which were renewed each year based on my performance. Each year they were renewed, yet each year was a feeling of persistent rootlessness. Would this be the last year, I wondered each year. Yet, thankfully, it lasted to the end. My M.Div, however, wasn’t so finely funded. Loans are due and after 12 years in higher education, there’s still loans from my undergraduate days. Repayment now looms very strongly as there’s no PhD program offering refuge anymore.Sailing near San Pedro

There are no job postings in my field, not ones that fit my background and training. Yet, there is little more I could have done better in light of my finishing. Dissertation passed with Distinction (the highest rating), 4.0 GPA throughout, dissertation manuscript accepted for publication by Fortress Press, good evaluations on my teaching at Fuller and APU.

With all that, I am cast into the whims and fancies of the academic world, with only occasional retirements and the small possibility of created new positions offering a modicum of hope that there’s something more permanent than being caught in the adjunct vortex.

Then there’s church, a church we’re members at, a church we started attending because in the midst of a long church shopping after being married, that was the one that provoked a “yes” in each of our souls. It’s a big church, though, and we’re not big church people. It’s a church far away. And I’m increasingly interested in a holistic experience that allows my church community to be in, with, and among my actual community.

I wrote a dissertation on that, after all. It’s something I not only desire, but can provide a nauseating amount of theological justification for, and back it up with practical examples. Every time I drive to church I feel rootless, a church led by a great staff, with some wonderful people, yet located in an upper-middle class neighborhood that is a 1/2 hour freeway drive from where we live. That’s not to say everyone there is enjoying the bounty of a fully realized American Dream, but many are. My car is almost always the worst in the lot.

Amy is a full time mom, a choice we made together, following the passion of her heart and what she feels God is leading her to do. Which I honor and celebrate, especially as I see everyday the boon that is Vianne, and the intelligence and strong personality that she has. Having Amy around her is a great benefit. But it has costs, the costs of trying to live on my adjunct salary in the middle of one of the higher cost of living regions.

We don’t know where to go. We don’t how to be where we are at. I’m feeling especially rootless, not only because of my present but because I’ve been in a wilderness mode of life since, by my estimation, I was 9. Lots of opportunities and experiences, continually uprooted, tossed hither and thither, never finding roots, never having what I would call a home of my own.

Recently, this rootlessness has become fairly exhausting. It’s nothing horrible. There are a lot worse stories out there. Like a perpetual drop of water, however, it digs deep and becomes distracting. I’m tired of it.

Yet, there is nothing but to keep pressing on.

Lest this sound like a litany of my present complaints, know that’s not the reason for my writing all of it. Writing is my way of renewal, a way of release, a way of searching for light by sketching out what is in my mind. And this, thus, is not a litany of complaints, left for their own sake, as though I’m leaving my rancid trash on the side of the road in order to clear my head. No. I list these because I want to express my context. I didn’t just graduate with a PhD, I graduated with a PhD in Christian Systematic Theology.

Which offers the challenge. I cannot simply gripe and whine, making a list of my complaints or challenges and leave them at that. Because in the midst of all those complaints is also a work of God. And I can list those as well. Works of God that led me, and then with Amy, into the choices and situations that are resulting in these challenges.

Writing is my way of renewal, and maybe by sketching out my thoughts on this rootlessness, seeking wisdom for my own sense of self and purpose — even as I continue to seek real, palpable answers — I can find myself walking with others who are rootless in similar or distinctive ways.

Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

I sought God. Now I feel rootless. That shouldn’t be surprising. But it is tiresome at this moment in time as I think about how to best support my family.

I seek God. I hope for rootedness.

Curiously, I originally sat down to write a little bit on my ideas about a missional community, one that I may want to get going when, and if, I ever find myself in a place of at least relative permanence (defined as having some commitment to stay for at least a year, rather than constantly aware we could move wherever a full-time job is found). I think that’s where I’ll keep musing, even as it was likely good for me to share my theological situation at first.kayaking on LA

Theology has never been about musing for musing sake. It was the road I took when I had significant challenges and sought “the ancient paths, where the good way lies.” Now with letters after my name there’s the challenge to keep it this way, and maybe, just maybe, by walking this road openly I can be a help to others on this path, the rootless, the dislocated, those who seek God in the midst of challenging questions, where they feel there is no way but forward, and there is no way possible to go forward.

That’s the place I’m at. And in the rootlessness I feel the shadows of despair rising, seeking to choke me, ruin me. Stronger -sometimes just barely stronger- is the substance of hope, that hope that has shocked me and surprised me, leading me to take the steps that led me farther up and further in. Holding onto that hope has led me through transformation in every part of my life, but there’s more yet to be transformed. The shadows thicken, reminding me how many ways I yet need Christ in my life, and his people.

From this, my theology and missional musings proceed.

Posted in How Long?, musings, personal, spirituality, theology | 1 Comment

Letter to Thyatira

We are very “just the facts” sort of people, we want facts, and figures, and statements that give us intellectual content. That’s how we have been taught to approach religion.  We have worship, sure, that part that is supposed to get to our heart.  But then we get to the head stuff.

The head stuff is separated from the heart stuff.  We’re not supposed to think about worship and we are supposed to think about the content of Scripture.  How can we bullet point each passage?  How can we make it clear the right things to believe and the wrong things to believe.

Revelation isn’t like that.  It’s not about what to believe, sorting it out like a puzzle. It’s meant to provoke an emotional response that affects our commitments and actions. Are we with God or are we against God?

Do you know  Modern Art?  It’s infuriating because it’s not about anything, not portraying anything, but that was the point. It wasn’t about making a copy of something in the real world, it was intended to bypass that intellectual part of ourselves, to hit our emotions.

That’s what movies do? Right?  If you boil a movie down to its essence, just the bare plot, you often are left with a much weaker impression.

Or, if you spend so much time on details, you likewise can lose the point, trying to figure out the symbolism of everything.  Then arguments develop as people disagree, and people who aren’t interested in such detailed examination move on.

That’s why most of us don’t like movie critics.  There’s symbolism in movies and it helps to know some details, but if we get caught up in the details we lose the sense of the emotion.

CS Lewis once noted a similar thing about love. What is love?  Well, it’s a complex chemical interaction in our brain that evokes a sensory response when around particular people or things.  We can get into the scientific or philosophical nature of love.  Go on for hours.  But who would stay for that? No, love is an experience that in the experience defies analysis.

I suggest that’s how we should approach Revelation.  There weren’t movies or television shows in these centuries. What they were was story tellers and they were masters of the craft. We have letters and we have histories, which are useful, but the goal of apocalyptic literature was something different, it was using the context of the time to evoke an emotional response, and in that response get us to go beyond mere intellectual analysis, which often leaves us agreeing but not really changing.

Revelation is intended to lead us towards transformation, to take hold of our mind, but also our heart and soul, to get a holistic response from us that actually leads us to become more in tune with what God is doing and what God will do.  It’s like what we see with Nathan and King David: 2 Samuel 12:1-6

We’re meant to get the message but get the message with an emotional response that is driven by the imagery and allusions, the references to other parts of Scripture and contextual connections the readers would know.

So, our goal should be to get to know the allusions and the context, but not get so caught up in the details we lose the message. We should be emotional about this, God is trying to stir up some kind of passion, a passion that would lead the audience to turn from their ways and turn towards God.

READ PASSAGE:  Revelation 2:18-29

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:

The core issue in Revelation, like with Genesis, is who is in charge?   Now in Genesis we had images of Creation, as nature was the way people saw who was in charge.>thyatira-clean

Here, the nations and empires had created cults, the gods were expressed through statues, the guilds in this city were themselves centers of both craft and idolatry.  Caesar was often worshiped in other cities, but here we have Apollo, who was often represented on coins and statues.  Thyatira was known for its metal working artisans who were initially supported for their ability to make weapons and armor, then broadened their appeal.

Christ is depicted as being in charge, and using the imagery that put Christ in the place of Apollo, that reflected elements of metal working—furnaces and products, images those in the city would see this in both an emotional and contextual way.  Jesus, the real God, is in charge of all the materials, he is the one who has the ability to judge and condemn.

“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.

They’re on the right track. They seem to have the right priorities for the most part. Love, faith, patient endurance (which suggests hope).  Faith, hope and love.  1 COR 13:13.  These are the things that matter, the things that will last forever.  And they’re putting it into practice with service.  They’re getting a lot right.  And they’re getting better.

But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication.

1 Kings 16:29-31

Jezebel was famous for leading astray because of religious syncretism. Religious justification for the wrong direction and wrong identity. Who is in charge?  Who decides what is right and what is wrong? Syncretism mixes the messages, saying God is in charge of some things, other gods are in charge of other things, and we’re able to decide who is in charge and what we get to do.

That’s the core issue in Genesis too.  Remember the temptation, the serpent told Eve that God was trying to keep something from them, that if she ate the fruit, Adam and Eve would have complete knowledge, complete insight, they could do what they wanted, they didn’t need a relationship with God, and in fact God was keeping them from their fullness.

That continues to be a religious argument. It’s not justifying based on giving into our worst selves, its appealing to our pride, to our sense of supposed religious maturity.

We think we can get away with more because we’re better.  And we end up following people who lead us astray, who mimic spiritual maturity but in fact are false prophets.

But what about eating food sacrificed to idols?

1 Corinthians 10:14-23

Not all things are permissible

In Thyatira, we learn about religious justification for going astray. A prophetess was teaching the people that, apparently, God didn’t mind their behaviors.

Missing the mark can involve going too short or too far.

Too much devotion can lead us astray. If we’re devoted to wrong gods, wrong prophets, wrong ministers. We can put our stock in someone’s seeming spiritual or earthly authority and be led far away from who God is calling us to be in every area of our life.

Too little respect for the limits God has set, saying that one part of our life can be left out of this religious stuff.

Putting stock in the wrong person, letting our identity be shaped by prophets instead of by the Spirit.

What’s the sin here in Thyatira?  Well, the audience knew, no doubt, who and what John was talking about, but we don’t.  Maybe sexual immorality—and there certainly was a lot of that in both the culture and the religions of the day.  We also, however, have echoes of Old Testament prophets.  When the people of Israel worshiped false gods they weren’t just choosing a different way to worship, they were committing adultery with them, they were having an affair.

That’s the imagery here too.  The Christians were being led into behaviors and practices that were adulterous.  They were excusing it based on some kind of prophetic ideal.

This means that we can become fornicators with anything that leads us away from finding our identity in Christ.  Life matters, every part of life matters, that’s what John is saying here, there’s no getting away from Christ, there’s no compartments in which life and religion are separate.ThyatiraMap2

For some, it means sexual activity, excusing immorality because the culture does it, it’s not a big deal, it’s just the body.  For others, there are other ways of fornication, and we continue to hear false prophets leading good Christians astray.  Money, food, power, relationships, things that are good in their place but can easily dominate our attention and lead us away from seeing Christ as lord. The trouble with idolatry is it puts up a false lord for us to worship.

Like with our society, work was tied very closely to identity for the Thyatrians.  What we do is who we are?

We can find our identity and excuses in work, or relationships, or money, or cars, or education, or music, or so many other things. Which isn’t to say those are bad but they become bad when we make them lords of our life.

But Christ demands that all parts of our lives are put under his lordship.

We’re to find our meaning and identity in and through Christ, and when we do that this lordship is involved in all parts of our life.

Our bodies matter and what we do with them.  Our time matters and what we do with it.  Our actions matter and what we do with them.  What we eat, drink, value.  These things matter and we can’t excuse our actions saying they don’t affect our faith. They do!  Even if we don’t want to admit it, they do.

Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead.

This teaching seems to suggest it was appealing to people’s religious pride.  That there were deeper teachings that the “enlightened” people knew and so they justified their behavior from a false sense of spiritual maturity.  We see this a lot even today.  People indulge their passions for wealth, or sex, or power, or whatever and justify it by saying its part of God’s plan, a result of some faith.

But John argues that this is missing the point and leading people not only into error but real adultery with these things. Adultery. We’re having an affair with wealth, power, sin.  And we’re betraying God.

And God is letting it happen for a while, and seeing who betrays him.  There is still a chance for repentance, so there’s hope, hope for all of us, but the time is coming in which God is going to assert his power. That Son of God with bronze boots and eyes blazing fire is watching.

And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.

Psalm 7:9

God is in charge.  God cares not only about our thoughts, what we believe, but also our actions and motives and everything about us. We make religion into intellectual consent, we can get lost. God makes the lordship of Christ about everything, like in Genesis, so too here.  Adam and Eve had an opportunity and they had a temptation. Were they going to find paradise with God, or were they going to give into the deceit and try to indulge what they wanted, thinking they could determine for themselves right and wrong. They ate the fruit.  This prophetess in Thyatira was eating the fruit.  Others in the church were eating the fruit.

Do we eat the fruit?  That is the challenge for us even still.

But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; only hold fast to what you have until I come.

The warning here is pretty clear. The people who have stayed out of this problem, need to keep doing what they are doing. Hold on, keep at it, John is saying. The temptation is to make the issue a crusade or to over-compensate.

Church history is filled with this, someone doing something wrong, so everyone focusing their attention on it, and forgetting to do what they were called to do. Or someone doing something wrong, so everyone reacts by making their own behavior more severe.thyratira

The holiness movement had this response, over-compensating in so many cases and losing the emphasis that Wesley put on a holistic participation in this world. The worry, for instance, about how early Liberals were both rejecting the resurrection and emphasizing social works, caused people to reject social works and service thinking that it was some kind of package.

We tend to see movements or leaders as packages, either entirely right in every case or entirely wrong.

So, a prophetess has something good to say, and folks follow her wholesale even into the fornication. Then, people might see this error and dismiss everything, even the good. But that’s wrong too.  We need to see through the lens of Christ and Spirit, what is good and bad, fruitful and destructive, not package people as entirely right or wrong.

The issue of “no other burden” comes up in Acts 15:23-29.

To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,

I will give authority over the nations;

to rule them with an iron rod,

as when clay pots are shattered—

even as I also received authority from my Father.

Jeremiah 18:1-11

Psalm 2:8-9

Clay pots are shattered when they are not made right or they have been polluted.  Christ here shows who is in charge of determining this.  Christ is in charge, and those who hold onto his identity, his calling, are going to be saved, and not only saved, they are going to be the ones who are given authority to know true right and wrong as well, through God, not apart like Adam and Eve, Ahab and Jezebel, and us today.

To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

The one who conquer the trials and temptations on earth will be given heaven.  Phil 3:12-4:1

It matters what we do.  We are called to live our whole lives in light of Christ’s lordship, not look for secret knowledge, or excuse our behavior or influences as not mattering.

There are those who will tempt us through our weaknesses, showing what the world offers.

There are others that will use our own religious devotion, leading us astray by making us feel like we’re part of the in-crowd, not limited, and able to use our freedom for sin.

Christ is Lord of all. Every part of our life.  He is calling us to live lives of love, faith, hope, expressed in our practices, not giving into being swayed by people who are tempting us away from who we are called to be in Christ. Some of those people tempt us through the world, some tempt us through spiritual sounding words and encouragement.

We are called to be conquerors with Christ, holding on to who he calls us to be in every part of our life, patiently enduring the trials and temptations, not veering to the right or to the left.  In the power of the Spirit, we can indeed find this way expressed in our lives.  Let us not listen to false spirits, false gods, false prophets, or anyone that tries to steer us away from God.  Let us hold firm to the fullness of truth in heart and mind and soul.  In this is the way of peace and true victory.

I was invited to preach at the PazNaz Saturday evening service last evening. These were my sermon notes.  I write things out first because I think better through writing, but then I use these notes more as cues, not reading it through just giving me a framework along the way. 

Posted in holiness, Jesus, Scripture, speaking, spirituality, theology | Leave a comment


Since only a small number of people will ever look at my dissertation (hopefully a much larger number look at the Fortress Press published version), I am posting here my Acknowledgment section that is at the beginning of the dissertation.  A way of more publicly to say thanks to the people involved in the process:


At the beginning is the end. The end of a long process of reading, writing, talking formally and informally with so many others. Along this way, I have had so many people who have influenced me in my thinking, in my faith, in my perseverance, pointing me towards a way of hope. Many of those I am not in regular contact with anymore and yet I would not be at this point if not for their influence. Thank you to my teachers at Wheaton for giving me the tools to explore theology and history, expanding not only my knowledge but also expanding my world, exposing me to the possibilities that Faith makes possible and giving me examples of how this can be worked out in the past and in the present. Thank you, dear friends who have walked a long or a little ways with me along the road. I value your friendship likely more than I ever expressed.

Others have had a more direct involvement in this process. Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen stands out in this regard. He was a significant influence during my MDiv studies and years later when I was at another crossroads of vocation he invited me to apply to study with him at Fuller for a PhD. His graciousness throughout has been inestimable, and more than this, a graciousness mixed with a sharp eye towards stretching, training, and sharpening me. In many ways his mentoring took the shape of what follows, he spurred me on and gave space for my participation, always encouraging and with a sincere excitement about my progress. His sense of humor mixed with a depth of insight and mastery of so many topics serves as a continuing example of the kind of scholar I seek to be. While I do not quote his own works extensively throughout this present work, his stamp of influence is profound throughout, in major and minor ways. He is my Doktorvater and my friend.

Along with Dr. Kärkkäinen, I wish to offer thanks to The Center for Advanced Theological Studies. The fellowships provided throughout my PhD studies allowed me to begin and press onwards in these studies, a task that was well beyond my means except for their generous support and validation each year. More than financial help, those in CATS have served as wonderful mentors, exemplifying the best theological education can offer, truly combining a substantive integration of faith and learning, never interested in an isolating ivory tower, modeling how a life of study can also be a life of faith.

Dr. James Bradley bears special mention in this regard as he helped shepherd me through a minor in church history. This subject is a love of mine and Dr. Bradley exemplifies why I love this field so much. His constant graciousness and his pursuit of academic rigor is likewise a model to me as I press onwards in my vocation and my faith. I want to also thank Dr. Bill Dyrness who was my second reader and whose class on Theology and Beauty helped to wonderfully initiate my PhD studies. Jürgen Moltmann also deserves personal appreciation. He was gracious in responding to notes and in encouraging my theological studies. He continued to be gracious in opening up his home for a few sessions of conversations in 2011. His openness to me was a great encouragement and is a great model.  He truly lives out what he writes.

My parents supported me through the ups and the downs, believing in me when I was confident about God’s work in my life, and believing in me when I wandered a while through a wilderness. They taught me to follow Jesus from my earliest days and have continued to be not only my family but my also my friends and a key part of my spiritual community. They are my mentors in life, in pressing onwards, in seeking after God in the good times and in the struggles, able to talk over the deep things of Scripture or theology, laugh together in considering the absurdities of life and celebrate together in the triumphs. I owe them much more than I can possibly say.

Amy has been my dearest friend, my constant encourager, my love of my life. She is a faithful follower of Christ, and I love being a team with her in this journey. I treasure her wisdom, her passion, her heart, the way she radiates the fullness of Christ, the way she hopes with me and for me, constantly pointing me towards God’s work. She is also much better at grammar than I am and helped me sort out many issues in what follows, fixing all manner of punctuation and being willing to tell me when something just plain didn’t make sense, as well as encouraging me when she read something that she loved. In big and small ways, her assistance is invaluable and I treasure beginning a new phase of life with her, our first that doesn’t involve PhD studies. We made it, my love.

This work is about the church. And while it may be wonderful to see transformative ecclesiology taking shape sooner rather than later, the reality is that any transformation of the church is like turning a cargo ship. It doesn’t happen quickly. With that in mind, I realize that what follows is an expression of hope for future generations. Along the way of writing this, one particular member of this future came into my life, my daughter Vianne, who was born very early in the morning on Easter, 2012. I continue to see the task of theology in all its forms as a way of helping provide for her a way forward in her own faith and hope and participation with Christ. She is a constant delight and a wonderful gift from God. I dedicate this dissertation to her, with hope and with expectation that she will see the wonders and promises of Christ become ever more present during the course of her life.

San Dimas, Maundy Thursday 2013                     Patrick Oden

Posted in academia, dissertation musings, ministry, missional, theology, Vianne, writing | 12 Comments

Levees of God

On the left side of this page there’s a sidebar, and on that sidebar are interspersed quotes. Like particularly pretty stones one might find by a riverbank, I’ve picked these up and have them displayed here, each pointing to a moment of insight or counsel, or reflecting a resource that pushed me farther away from the explicable and into some new course of life. Or gave me hope in the midst of a way that didn’t make sense to me.

Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.
Jeremiah 6:16

Books have been my mentors my whole life. I’ve always been a reader and reading has generally caused me to lose focus on the present and lose focus on what I was supposed to be learning in a given context. I get distracted by books, and of books there is no end. One book leads to another, the rabbit trail leading to the rabbit hole, down we go.

When I think back on my life, I think of the books that were shaping my thoughts and assumptions during those various seasons. That would probably be the most effective form of self-biography, a list of books. To add to that, I probably could add writing I’ve done, self-biography that is not autobiography–telling my story directly–but telling of the deeper me through the guides that are compelling me further up and further in.

I wrote essays on CS Lewis and James Michener in high school, reading almost all of both of their works before I graduated. In my sophomore year of college, I was introduced to the early church Fathers, and more specifically to Tertullian. My Spring break of that year was filled reading through the two volumes of his writings in the Ante-Nicene Fathers. It took longer than that one week, of course, but it filled that week and expanded into all my life. The strange thing is that reading has never just been academic or intellectual for me. It has when required, but the reading I’m talking about–the kind that shapes and defines me–has been quite holistic. I loved the early church fathers, for instance, because they spoke of depths of faith, love, hope in the midst of trials, perseverance. Tertullian’s mix of brilliant exposition and sarcastic wordplay delighted me to the core of my being.

I did not, to say the least, have the stereotypical college experience. I was distracted the whole time, distracted by pressing problems and, more to the point, distracted by God. This is probably why, in my junior year, I resonated greatly with Wesley’s writings. He spoke of both my passions and my struggles.

This post isn’t about college, however. I’m in the midst of writing about my journey to and through PhD studies. The last post ended with me in the mountains.

I went there to write. Really. I was living in Pasadena, looking for jobs, and writing was the only thing that stirred my soul. That and answering “run a Christian escort business” when people asked me what I did for a living.

The mountains provided, even within their own modicum of chaos, a place I could be even more deliberate about my deeper quest. People thought I was running away from life. It was entirely the opposite. I was turning around and facing the always encroaching Void, letting its waves wash over me, no longer fleeing from it. If I did not have faith, I would not stand.

Hunting truth is no easy task; we must look everywhere for its tracks

Basil the Great

I continued to write, but more importantly for those first couple of years I began to read into the depths. Each season of my life has its theme books, and the four volume set of the Philokalia was the theme of those mountain years.

I found the early church fathers in college, reading through the ante-nicene Fathers set after graduating. I found John Cassian my first year in seminary, who radically upset my ability to subsist contentedly in the world as I knew it. The Philokalia was the progression of that reading, discovered because I wanted to read Wesley deeper, and sought out a source for his Makarios, a great influence in his life. I found Makarios in the Philokalia and also so many others. Niketas Stethatos being my favorite (if one is allowed to have such favorites).

Such writings showed me a map, a path to deeper places, deeper answers, deeper hopes. Also deeper restrictions, deeper limitations, stricter standards. I was like an Autopia car when the ‘driver’ lets go of the steering wheel, bouncing back and forth but making progress along the track. I was not good in so many ways. But God sought more for me, and in the flood of the Spirit’s work, there were levees that kept me isolated, kept me moving a determined direction. As much as I might have wanted to flood into other pastures, God established the way.

Hence I ought unceasingly
to give thanks to God who often pardoned
my folly and my carelessness,
and on more than one occasion
spared His great wrath on me,
who was chosen to be His helper
and who was slow to do as was shown
me and as the Spirit suggested.
And the Lord had mercy on me
thousands and thousands of times
because He saw that I was ready,
but that I did not know what to do
in the circumstances.

Patrick of Ireland

In the midst of this path, a path of both isolation and narrowed community, I found hope. I found renewal. I found a voice.

In the midst of this, I also rediscovered a couple of theologians I had first met in seminary. I read Pannenberg and his three volume systematic theology. I also read Moltmann. Both of which radically affected my understanding of God and this life and God’s work in this world. Moltmann affected me even more personally, becoming an actual mentor of sorts, and not just through his books.

Moltmann was the way God led me down the mountain and back into life.

Which is the subject of another post.

Posted in 500, journey, lake arrowhead, spirituality, theology | 3 Comments

Resurrection hope

In the experience of Christ, the resurrection gathers all people into the power of the messianic moment even now, as such people live in the light of the Spirit’s in-breaking of history. “Only the love which passionately affirms life understands the relevance of this hope, because it is through that that this love is liberated from the fear of death and the fear of losing its own self.”[1]

Rather than losing one’s own self, thus always anxious about the encroaching identity of others, feeling vulnerable and fragmented, thus easily subverted, the person who lives in the light of the resurrection is secure in their identity as being alive in Christ. The substance of Christ gives substance to each person, securing their future as participants with the open fellowship of God. This security frees people to live with openness in their particular contexts.

“The resurrection hope,” Moltmann writes, “makes people ready to live their lives in love wholly, and to say a full and entire Yes to a life that leads to death. It does not withdraw the human soul from bodily, sensory life; it ensouls this life with unending joy.”[2]

We can say yes to death only in light of resurrection hope, which allows us to no longer fear death nor be determined by false forms of identity that we think might protect us from death.

“In this resurrection dialectic, human beings don’t have to try to cling to their identity through constant unity with themselves, but will empty themselves into non-identity, knowing that from this self-emptying they will be brought back to themselves again for eternity.”[3]

The identity that Christ promises to his people, then, substantiates each particular person as a particular subject in God’s particular mission. They do not lose their identity, becoming a drone in a collective, rather the promise of resurrection is a process of becoming in full who a person was always intended to be.

The hope in God is hope in one’s own future in which identity is secured and blossoms into fullness. The resurrection leads a person past the work of the cross, in which history and the past finds resolution, and into the future where a person can truly be who they are in the community of others who are similarly becoming.

“Communion with Christ,” Moltmann writes, “the new being in Christ, proves to be the way for man to become man. In it, true human nature emerges, and the still hidden and unfulfilled future of human nature can be sought in it.”[1]

The goal of much oppression, to secure one’s own identity and power and position—to secure one’s self in a particular context and project one’s security into the future—invariably leads to death, and thus dissolution of that goal. That was the earliest deception of sin, the taking of the fruit to assert one’s own identity and bypassing God.

Only the way of the cross includes the path to resurrection, and only by participating with the crucified God do we then have a substantive hope for not only salvation from but indeed and more importantly, salvation into.

This salvation into includes those ultimate goals for which oppressing tends to be concerned—issues of fulfillment, identity formation, security. Because the cross entails the loss of identity, the resurrection is about more than resuscitation of that old identity into becoming a more successful version of the same.

Jesus does not valorize who we were but awakens us to new possibilities in accordance with who we were always meant to be. “For freedom,” Moltmann writes, “is nothing else than being open for the genuine future, letting oneself be determined by the future.” Yet, while the Spirit of resurrection can thus be called the power of the future, the resurrection is not futuram but an advent, a novum of new life, a new way of living.

This new way of living involves participating not in our determinative future but participating in Christ, “from the knowledge and recognition of that historic event of the resurrection of Christ which is the making of history and the key to it.”[3] The cross opens a person up to be a new person, emptying and forsaking, the resurrection is the promise of filling, of new life.

Thus, the resurrection “means recognizing in this event the latency of that eternal life which in the praise of God arises from the negation of the negative, from the raising of the one who was crucified and the exaltation of the one who was forsaken.”[4]

Hope is not static. Hope initiates movement.

This was a couple of  wee excerpts from my dissertation

[1] Moltmann, Coming of God , 66.

[2] Moltmann, Coming of God, 66.

[3] Moltmann, Coming of God, 67.


[1] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 196.

[2] Obviously a statement like this would raise objections concerning the historicity of the Garden narrative. Whatever the historical basis, the narrative intent of the story was to assert a particular kind of action/response that is at the root of human alienation from God and self. It is this narrative intent that is my concern.

[3] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 212. Cf. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 229.

[4] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 211.

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