okay

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Fred Thompson, he of Law & Order and Die Hard 2 fame, is thinking about running for President.

Alright. He has my vote. I think it’s bout time for a President with gravitas.

a bit of theology

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From my reading this morning:

“If in a community we take over responsibility for others, these others exist in a certain way in us, at least in our solicitude for them. That is why in Christian faith we say: because Christ is for us and gave himself for us, we are in Christ. In this relationship, in-existence (meaning location, not negation) is the other side of pro-existence. In a community the pro-existent and the in-existent relationships are so multifarious that any one-sidedness is precluded. We are always there for other people and in other people, just as other people are there for us and in us. In human community we mutually open up for each other the spaces of freedom through love, or we close them through intimidation. We are presence, space, and dwelling for one another.”

a theological post

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I’m going to coin a word. I’ve done the essential research involved and found that in fact Google does not have a single instance of this word.

Before I get to it, I’m going to explain it. Suspense, you see, makes for better reading, and in a theology related post a person needs all the tricks for better reading that can be had.

I’m taking a class on Jurgen Moltmann right now. One of the tasks in this class is to write a short paper on his theological method, on the way he approaches writing about theology. This is what makes theology so fun. I’m asked to determine how to write on how he has determined to write on how God has determined to write. But that’s besides the point.

One of the problems with this task is that Moltmann is brilliant. Another problem is that he’s well, “imaginative”, or in other words does things that others in his guild don’t really appreciate. He’s not all that into the rules.

The rules have a pattern for writing theology, which is why it’s called systematic theology. There’s a system to be had, and worked with. You start with a basic premise then work your way onwards and upwards filling up volumes with a coherent discussion of who God is and what he has done in this world. Depending on the starting point and the assumptions made along the way a theology can look quite different from another theology, but the key to a good theology is not ruined by these differences. Rather what makes a bad theology is that it is incoherent. It doesn’t stick well together, and the pieces don’t match.

So, theologians try to punch holes into each other’s theologies, trying to find the points at which a seamless system reveals seams and cracks and holes. These then can be the basis of an enlightening research paper that gets said discoverer tenure.

What doesn’t always matter is how the theology then intersects with our lived lives. Part of the problem too is that because the study of the Church is within theological purview, the church is made to fit within the same coherent set of meanings, and symbols, and concepts — and becomes an inflexible entity that serves the goal of coherence.

The problems we face are not as much dealt with by the theology as much as they are asked to be quiet and fit in with the theology already established. This leads to friction between who we are and what we think we are supposed to believe.

Friction is a key word here. We’re all in motion in time and in space. We live lives that have a past, a present, and a future. We live lives that are constantly brushing up against other people and other realities. “If I only could be left alone!” we cry when frustrated, the frictions of life grating us to thin wisps of being.

God too, we can say, is in motion. That’s a little trickier concept because he is eternal and infinite, so there seems to be no place for him to move to. However, that’s not exactly the case because God created time and space, and in this time and space there is movement. Indeed, within God himself, some have argued, there is movement. If we see the Trinity as being composed of eternal relationship, and thus eternal interaction, God is in constant motion. Maybe even defined by this constant motion. In theological terms this movement is called, among other terms, perichoresis. It’s a word that can loosely be defined as a dance. The Triune persons are in an intricate dance with themselves, as they also intricately involve themselves within the constantly moving life of this world.

When God interacts within history there is friction. Just ask Jesus on the cross. Or the Israelites in the wilderness. When humans interact with God there is friction, just ask the prophets or look at the letters of Paul. With all the movement these interactions create a divine friction that wears down the other. God becomes angry. Humans become broken.

Systematic theology is a study of God in a vacuum, in a way. It dispenses with the complicated parts that real life encounters in order to develop a coherent system that describes what is, if what is were within a controlled lab setting. This approach gain coherence, for the most part, but does it by setting aside another seemingly important theological goal. Theology should not only be coherent it should have integrity.

Theology should mean something to this world, to our present problems and to our present issues. It should speak into the life I am living this morning if it is to be a real reflection of the revelation of the God who acts.

Which brings me back to Moltmann. His approach, it seems, involves a willingness to discard coherence in his quest for integrity. This drives theologians batty, but it results in a theological discussion that is immediately applicable. He starts with a problem, not with a premise. Instead of moving forward then, and only possible getting to the point where he discusses real life issues, he moves backwards from the problems. He sees a theological solution, an integration of God within this world, and then has to find the “equations” that justify having such a solution.

This sounds disordered, but isn’t as much because God has done much the same thing. He tells us who he is. He acts. He tells us what to value and who to value. He does not start with a systematic expression of his divine reality.

All of Christian revelation begins with an end that forces us to work back to the beginning. God just doesn’t really worry about answering our questions. He’s much more inclined to have us answer his questions. Answering God’s questions is what happens, or should happen, in the life of the church and in our own spirituality.

So there is friction between the questions we want answered and the questions God wants us to answer. Theology and the Church part ways at this friction.

But theology isn’t content with this situation. Neither is the church. The Church tries to get theology to address its problems, theology tries to tell the Church what problems it actually has, which are problems theology can coherently answer.

Meanwhile each individual, each particle, and God himself are in constant motion. There is friction.

When the Church itself cannot address problems, or indeed creates problems, it is a sign the friction has increased and become a hindrance. Auschwitz is a massive point of friction for a German nation that had prided itself on a very, very advance theological conversation. How could a spiritually, socially, and culturally mature nation devolve into such barbarism? Friction. There was a disorder in the movement, and while it seemed to be running well, it instead was being rubbed down into chaos and disorder.

The built-up conception of God did not adequately address real life, and could not reach into the lives of massive desperation that surrounded all of WWII. Theology lost all integrity in the concentration camps.

Yet that doesn’t mean theology has become empty or lost all worth. The problem wasn’t with the Theos, God — the problem was with the logos, the words that were used about God. The words used were in friction with the Logos who was sent as God’s prime revelation within history. It was the words that were wrong. This is true despite the fact that pre-WWII German theology was immensely coherent. They just weren’t coherent with God. And they certainly weren’t coherent with humanity. There was no integrity. That created friction.

We see this now. We see the errors of words by the actions they provoke. We see the results of seemingly ivory tower conversations put into practice by experimentalists, often with cultural and social disasters resulting.

Moltmann was shaped by the Auschwitz reality, not as a Jew but as a German soldier, who lost his own friends defending an indefensible cause. In his POW camp he saw the importance of integrity, and over the years has been willing to sacrifice a bit of coherence in order to constantly keep in sight the pressing problems that humanity inflicts upon others, and upon God himself. The very disorders that characterize suffering in this world are not merely accidental by products of sin among us. They are key indicators of points of friction between God and humanity.

Some of this friction, especially in Christian societies, comes from being caught too much on individual parts of God’s own motion. An over-emphasis on Christ seems noble, except that such often creates destructive hierarchies and distorted power structures, as people assume that Christ needs representation, not in love but in power. An over-emphasis on the Father creates legalistic cultures that rhetorically reject the Law as found in the books of Moses, while instituting whole new laws that try to regulate every part of life so as to bring approval from God. An over-emphasis on the Spirit brings storms and heresies. Each person becomes a power for themselves, and unrestrained in their enthusiasm. They become unmoored, and victims of potent spiritual realities.

The problems point to the frictions. Particular problems can illustrate potential sources of frictions that should be addressed so that the movements of God and man through time and space can be addressed both theologically and practically. How we address problems relating to leadership, or poverty, or psychology, or nature, or whatever seems to break down our theological integrity in this world seems to be now an extremely vital task. Systematic theology has created coherent systems which provide foundations. There is not too much new left to be said. What has to happen, however, is that these theologies need to be probed for their points of friction, to discover how when practically applied they enhance or break down society, culture, and relationship.

If there is friction then that means we are stuck on something. It means we are caught up in disorder, and even small disorder can cause huge problems in our constant movement. The most potent friction is, of course, sin. But that’s not the only friction. Sin can arise from other frictions, such as a disordered view on how the Spirit does in fact work in this world, or a misconception of Jesus’ mission on this earth, or a dismissal of God’s work in his created world.

Friction can arise from very earnest intentions. But it’s still friction. And friction causes problems. So, it must be addressed. And only by seeing aspects of the world that are not what they should be according to God’s original intent can we discover specific points of friction. This is what Moltmann attempts to do. Theological integrity seeks a frictionless surface between God and this world, so that what we say and what we do really and truly reflects God’s kingdom in the present, and helps bring transformation.

What this means, basically, is wholeness. A theology that is without friction allows for, results in, psychological, relational, and societal wholeness.

Which brings me to my word, and a word which I think should become the primary motivation within Emerging circles and others who seek to, first of all, have integrity in this world. Words about God are not enough anymore. Theology is not a strong enough goal. Instead we need to study the frictions.

Which is why we need not only theology but also theotribology.

“Formally defined, tribology is the science and technology of interacting surfaces in relative motion and all practices related thereto.”

Theotribology, then is the exploration of the interactions between God and humanity, within this world and with each other.

As you can tell by this roundabout post, the concept still needs a bit of work. Just had to write this now as a starting point.

a wee bit extra

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‘m sure you’re thinking, “Scripture is great and all but isn’t a blog that is only about Scripture merely a artificial construct that bolsters an appearance of spiritual interest while really serving to shield more personal spiritual and emotional and social sensitivities?”

Well, that’s a good question. And I’m glad you asked. I guess all I have to say in response is “Mind your own business.”

Though, that wouldn’t be at all polite and really would go against the atmosphere here. So, I take it back. I’m sorry. I guess it’s just Thursday prickliness.

But, really it is odd to even me that I’m not writing other things. My goal this year was to really write about Scripture and see what came out, but that’s not all I’m interested in.

So, here’s more of an update with me. In case you’re wondering, of course. Though, if you weren’t why would you be reading this? I guess I could give stock tips at the end, but that would really do more to confirm why I ended up going to seminary rather than business school.

I’ve been taking a couple of classes, both which stretch two sides of my spiritual life.

The first class is my intellectual class, though I see it as a key class for my ministry development as well. It’s on the theology of Jurgen Moltmann. Now I’m sure you’ve read all his books, but for that other fellow (no, not you. the other guy) who hasn’t, Moltmann is considered one of the top theologians of the last half century. German fellow who found Christ while in a British prisoner of war camp at the end of WWII. He’s quite brilliant and creative… more so than I can keep up with really.

The book we studied this past week he titled, “The Crucified God”. In it he re-examines what was going on at the cross. The cross really is the center of all Christian theology, but what does it mean. Not in a philosophic or apologetic sense. What did it mean that Jesus died on the cross, God and man? Yes, he died for our sins. But what does that really mean?

The key aspect of this is to see Christ as embracing suffering. In his suffering he identifies with those in the world who are suffering. Where was God in Auschwitz, Moltmann asks. That is the point of the cross. Jesus was in the middle of it, enduring and sharing all the evil and the pain and the darkness, taking on all of it so that we can identify with him in our suffering. We find a companion with Jesus in our suffering, whether that be social, or financial, or physical, or emotional. But we also find more. His is the promise of resurrection. The God who suffered is the God who resurrected, enduring all the pain. We are given hope. This is not only a hope that our past is cleansed and we are forgiven. No. The cross is that, but it is more than that. The cross is the reality that our past and our future and our present are redeemed. We experience the suffering of our present with the hope that God is freeing us even now. There is light. There is more to this existence. The God who shares our suffering came down in the midst of our darkness and in the middle of where we are at he acted. Nothing is beyond his reach now. He is not the distant God who smites and blesses from afar. He’s among us. He’s with us. Where is he in the pain? He is with us, sharing the pain, knowing the fears and hurts.

That is the cross. It is not a distant confusing conception of some legal transaction. It is God among us, enduring what we endure, taking on suffering to join us in our suffering to lift us out of our suffering so that we can become brothers with him and enjoy the fruits of eternal life, even now as the Spirit ministers to us.

God understands. God is with us, with every part of us, in the darkness and the light. That is the cross.

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Merry Christmas!

times change

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Pannenberg’s dispute with Bultmann centers on revelation and its relationship to history. To Bultmann, faith and reason are totally separate, as are God’s history and man’s; the divine will is known only through the kerygma (proclamation) —God’s word as contained in Scripture, which is understandable only through faith. Pannenberg argues that Bultmann preaches a kind of “Biblical authoritarianism” of God’s word and, in effect, pushes Christian faith outside the boundaries of history. On the contrary, Pannenberg insists, God is not only the ground of all existence, but all of history is a revelation of his existence. A notable example of this is the history of ancient Israel, as recorded in the Bible. “It was the Jews who first discovered divine reality within the changes of history,” contends Pannenberg. “For this reason they, unlike other peoples, did not try to stem themselves against the new, but continued to see divine manifestations within the changes of history itself.”

Guess the source.

No, it’s not a dusty theological text. Nor is it a journal article. Nor even notes from a lecture.

It is from a religion section.

Time magazine’s religion section, in 1967.

On the back of my Theology of Hope book, first published in 1964. there’s a blurb from Newsweek commending Moltmann’s work.

It is amazing to me how much the coverage of religion has regressed from assessing some of the top theologians in the world to neato articles on the Gospel of Judas (with glossy photos!) and constant re-examinations of managing editor’s personal faith quests, or loss thereof.

humanizing

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The dominant question of all anthropology — who or what is man? who am I? — does not arise in the biblical narratives from comparing man with the animals or with the things of the world. Nor does it arise simply from being “before the face of God”, as Augustine and the Reformers affirmed. Rather it arises in the fact of a divine mission, charge and appointment which transcend the bounds of the humanly possible. Thus Moses (Ex. 3:11) asks in the fact of his call to lead the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: ‘Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ Thus, too, Isaiah (Isa. 6:5) in the face of his call recognizes himself to be personally guilt-laden in the midst of a guilt-laden people: ‘Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.’ Thus Jeremiah in fact of his call recognizes what he is and what he was: ‘Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child’ (Jer. 1:6).

Self-knowledge here comes about in face of the mission and call of God, which demand impossibilities of man. It is knowledge of self, knowledge of men and knowledge of guilt, knowledge of the impossibility of one’s own existence in the face of the possibilities demanded by the divine mission. Man attains to knowledge of himself by discovering the discrepancy between the divine mission and his own being, by learning what he is, and what he is to be, yet of himself cannot be.

Hence the answer received to man’s question about himself and his human nature runs: “I will be with thee.’ This does not tell man what he was and what he really is, but what he will be and can be in that history and that future to which the mission leads him. In his call man is given the prospect of a new ability to be.

What he is and what he can do, is a thing he will learn in hopeful trust in God’s being with him. Man learns his human nature not from himself, but from the future to which the mission leads him. What man is, is told him only by history, declared W. Dilthey. We can here accept this statement, if we add: the history to which the missionary hope leads him. The real mystery of his human nature is discovered by man in the history which discloses to him his future.

In this very history of missionary possibilities which are as yet unknown and as yet unlimited, it comes to light that man is not an ‘established being’, that he is open to the future, open for new, promised possibilities of being. The very call to the possibilities of the future which are yet obscure makes it clear that man is hidden from himself and will be revealed to himself in those prospects which are opened up to him by the horizons of mission. The mission and call do not reveal man simply to himself, with the result that he can then understand himself again for what he really is. They reveal and open up to him new possibilities, with the result that he can become what he is not yet and never yet was. This is why according to Old and New Testament usage men receive along with their call a new name, and with their new name a new nature and a new future.

–Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope

a step in some direction, maybe

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As you may or may not know I wrote a book this past year. On the Holy Spirit in the Church, with special reference to the Emerging Church movement.

Basically, it’s a theology book on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church framed as a conversation between a pastor and a journalist. Scripture is specifically used all throughout, with other references not being as particularly noted. They are underlying the whole work, but I’m not sure many people are interested in a lot of notes like “See also Welker, 184ff”. The influences are implicit rather than explicit, except for Scripture.

I wrote the book and have in the meantime asked a few people to look over it, to help me sharpen what I did. Now that Fall is here I’m thinking it is a good time to take another step, so this week I’m going to start shopping the manuscript around.

I’ve already started a new project, on sin, but this first one still holds a special place for me. I’m hoping it gets picked up somewhere. I could see this as a continuing field of study for me, both in practice and writing, so wouldn’t mind the encouragement in that direction.

All to say, if you are so inclined, prayers in regards to all of this are much appreciated.

Well, this makes sense.

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Eschatology isn’t all that interesting to me as a subject to be honest, even as I think it’s just about the most important topic we need as Christians. It’s the details that aren’t all that interesting to me, which is what most of the conversation is about. That God is making all things good, and the End is in his control, is just about enough for me. I need to keep in mind who wins, not how. But, there’s this, for those who are interested:

You scored as Moltmannian Eschatology. Jürgen Moltmann is one of the key eschatological thinkers of the 20th Century. Eschatology is not only about heaven and hell, but God’s plan to make all things new. This should spur us on to political and social action in the present.

Moltmannian Eschatology

75%

Amillenialist

55%

Postmillenialist

45%

Premillenialist

45%

Dispensationalist

30%

Preterist

25%

Left Behind

25%

What's your eschatology?
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wallowing in sin

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One of the big critiques of the Emerging Church is it has a deficient, according to some, understanding of the harsher realities of human existence. It wants to be positive and accepting, rather than fire and brimstone convicting.

I’m of the opinion there’s something to be found here in this critique, and something to be developed. For Emerging Church to really discover a contributing theology I think it will have to address in new forms the classic topics. Theology is such a huge thing there isn’t an era that can encompass its fullness, and indeed I think God is so entirely grand that he offers us revelation through space and time. We need thousands of years of consideration to begin to discover him in some respects, and he has allowed us this time to wrestle with what he has done and what he has doing, sending his Son and his Spirit to reveal and teach.

The concept of sin touches on so much of our reality, towards God and towards others, I’m thinking it might be quite interesting to explore how we in our era can discover the concepts anew. This is not to deny what has been past, indeed it is to embrace it for what it teaches and seek to discover if we are best to be reminded or can in fact add some nuance to the discussion. Such nuances, I suspect, are not in the order of “sin is bad, all people do it, and really they shouldn’t but can’t help it, so there’s Christ.” Rather, such nuances would explore what is the nature of sin itself. What is it doing in us, through us, to us? How do we parse its labyrinth ways, and in our state of salvation begin to progress towards the quite New Testament exhortation of perfection.

Do we know the battle we are fighting? Or do we each, on our own, fight in isolated caverns flailing our arms about and grabbing whatever is near to beat down our most pernicious selves?

Ah, but the critique stands, and not only for the part of the church which tells the world it is emerging. We’ve not, I find, a good counsel on the wiles of our wiles. None of recent writing at least.

I know what to discover in ancient texts written with the dust of deserts likely still clogging the quill. Only I don’t quite know what I would read if I sought a text written on sin, or sins, in the past couple of centuries, or decades, or years, or weeks. Well, certainly there are texts relating the vast array of sinfulness, one need only type particular phrases into google to find examples abounding. But, I’m not looking for proof. I’m wanting to hear discussion on the nature of sin, and how it works, what it looks like from the perspective of God, and how we go about dealing with it.

I take this back. I do know of one book, a very good one subtitled a Breviary of Sin. That’s one book. Since I’m somewhat out of the loop of contemporary Christian publishing I figure there are more. Only I don’t know their names. Any suggestions, guidance, direction?