Archive for October, 2018

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Starling“In the first place, the gospel gives the Christian and the church a momentum toward mission…The gospel speaks to the church that has become comfortable in itself, within its own cozy ecclesiastical circle, and sends it out into the world, to declare and demonstrate the saving Lordship of Jesus in ever corner of the earth…But this momentum into the world in mission is not the only kind of mobility that the gospel imparts to the church.  At the same time, equally, the gospel speaks about a coming Kingdom, and constitutes the church as a pilgrim people, as a people on the road toward a destination they haven’t arrived at yet, as a people whose home is in another place.  The gospel speaks to the church that has gotten comfortable in the world, at home in this present age, and it sets the church on pilgrimage…The church that is called for by the gospel is a mobile community; it is a community on mission into the world, and a community on a pilgrimage through the world, toward the life of the coming Kingdom of God…

The two priorities—mission and holiness—are not competing ones, although there have been plenty of Christians over the centuries and in our own time who have acted as if they were, and have pitted the one against the other.  The holiness we are called to is a holiness-in-mission, lived not in cloistered isolation from the world but in close proximity to those whom we are seeking to serve and evangelize.  And the mission we are called to is a holy mission—one that has been entrusted to a people whose lifestyle is to stand out in sacred distinctiveness from the lifestyle of the surrounding world.” (David I. Starling, UnCorinthian Leadership: Thematic Reflections on 1 Corinthians, pp. 31-42)

Newbigin“The very essence of the Church’s life is that she is pressing forward to the fulfillment of God’s purpose and the final revelation of His glory, pressing forward both to the ends of the earth and to the end of the world, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.  The treasure entrusted to her is not for herself, but for the doing of the Lord’s will, not for hoarding but for trading.  Her life is to be forever spent, to be cast into the ground like a corn of wheat, in the ever-new faith and hope of the resurrection harvest.  Her life is precisely the life under the sign of the Cross.” (Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God, pp. 175-76)

“The Church is the pilgrim people of God.  It is on the move—hastening to the ends of the earth to beseech all men to be reconciled to God, and hastening to the end of time to meet its Lord who will gather all into one.  Therefore the nature of the Church is never to be finally defined in static terms, but only in terms of that to which it is going.  It cannot be understood rightly except in a perspective which is at once missionary and eschatological.” (Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God, p. 22)

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The following represents an utterly subjective, partial and inadequate list of works I have found helpful and informative on Christian political theology.  I’ve tried to include a representative sampling of a wide range of perspectives.  What else would you add?

The Barmen Declaration (here; written in response to the Nazi Third Reich in WWII)

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony / The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics

Cavanaugh, Bailey and Hovey (eds.), An Eerdmans Reader in Contemporary Political Theology

Jennifer McBride, The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness

Charles T. Mathewes, A Theology of Public Life / Republic of Grace: Augustinian Thoughts for Dark Times

Andy Crouch, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power

Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good / “Soft Difference: Theological Reflections in the Relationship Between Church and Culture in 1 Peter”

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus / The Christian Witness to the State / The Original Revolution

James K. A. Smith, Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology

Elizabeth Philips, Political Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed

George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee (eds.), Chrisitan Political Witness

Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation

Charles D. Drew, Body Broken: Can Republicans and Democrats Sit in the Same Pew?

Karl Barth, Community, State, and Church

David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture

Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy

Richard Bauckham, The Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically

William Cavanaugh, Migrations of the Holy: God, State and the Political Meaning of the Church

James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World

Amy E. Black (ed.), The Church and Politics: Five Views

Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology

Oliver O’Donovan and Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought

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Unexpected Company

Rowan“And for us today, trying to be Christ’s disciples, awareness and expectancy are still central…We watch with expectancy the world in which we live.  We listen for the word to come alive for us in Scripture.  We look at the great self-identifying actions of the Church in the sacraments, asking the Spirit to make the connection come alive.

But not only that; we look at one another as Christians with expectancy–an aspect of discipleship that is not always easy to hold to.  Yet it can’t be said too often that the first thing we ought to think of when in the presence of another Christian individual or Christian community is: what is Christ giving me through this person, this group?  Given that we may not always see eye to eye with other Christians to mix with, that can be hard work (and no doubt it’s at least equally hard work for them looking at us).  But, nonetheless, Jesus has brought us together precisely so that we approach one another with that degree of expectancy.  It doesn’t mean that you will agree with everything the other Christian says or does; simply that you begin by asking, ‘What is Jesus Christ giving me here and now?’…

If you are going to be where the Master is, those things you think come naturally and comfortably are not necessarily going to define where you find yourself.  The place where you are going to be is always going to be defined by the Master, not by you or indeed, ultimately, by any of your qualities or relationships.  Being with the Master is recognizing that who you are is finally going to be determined by your relationship with him.  If other relationships seek to define you in a way that distorts this basic relationship, you lose something vital for your own well-being and that of all around you too.  Love God less and you love everyone and everything less…

Being where Jesus is means being in the company of the people whose company Jesus seeks and keeps.  Jesus chooses the company of the excluded, the disreputable, the wretched, the self-hating, the poor, the diseased; so that is where you are going to find yourself.  If you are going to be where Jesus is, if your discipleship is not intermittent but a way of being, you will find yourself in the same sort of human company as he is in.  It is once again a reminder that our discipleship is not about choosing our company but choosing the company of Jesus–or rather, getting used to the fact of having been chosen for the company of Jesus.

That is why so many great disciples of Jesus across the history of the Christian Church–and indeed now–find themselves in the company of people they would never have imagined being with, had they not been seeking to be where Jesus is: those who have gone to the ends of the earth for the sake of the gospel; those who have found themselves in the midst of strangers wondering, ‘How did I get here?’…[And] our attentiveness is not just a kind of aesthetic attitude, an appreciation of beauty.  It is also a willingness to bring an active and transfiguring love into this situation of expectancy, to keep company so that an action and a relationship may come into being…And so this habit of attentiveness and expectancy towards God and one another results, or overflows, in a mode of being and action in the world that–because it can be free from ego and anxiety–actually allow God-shaped change to take place around you.  This happens not by effort and struggle, with furrowed brows and tensed muscles, but by allowing something to rise up, something irresistible within your awareness that is God’s purpose coming through to make the difference that only God can make.  A disciple is, as we have seen, simply a learner; and this, ultimately, is what the disciple learns: how to be a place in the world where the act of God can come alive.” (Rowan Williams, “Being Disciples” in Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life)


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Brueggemann“The big idea of this book (that echoes the big idea of the Old Testament) is that the God of ancient Israel (who is the creator of heaven and earth) is a God in relationship, who is ready and able to make commitments and who is impinged upon by a variety of ‘partners’ who make a difference in the life of God.  Such a notion of God in relationship that pervades the Old Testament is both a stark contrast to much classical theology that thought of God only in God’s holy self, and to the modern notion of autonomy whereby God and human selves are understood as isolated and independent agents who are only incidentally related to each other.  The view taken here is that such relatedness is intrinsic to existence and definitional for all agents, including the agency of the God of ancient Israel.

This suggests that the defining category for faith in the Old Testament is dialogue, whereby all parties–including God–are engaged in a dialogic exchange that is potentially transformative for all parties…including God.  This constitutes a conviction that God and God’s partners are engaged in mutual talk…The Old Testament is an invitation to reimagine our life and our faith as an on-going dialogic transaction in which all parties are variously summoned to risk and change…

The issue of dialogical faith is particularly important in our present societal context.  Our society is now tempted to solve societal (and therefore personal) problems by old, predictable remedies.  These remedies often seek to reduce solutions to power or to technology or to more commodity goods.  Thus political threat is countered by more military power.  Thus problems of illness or aging are managed by more technology.  Thus loneliness is overcome by more commodity goods, whether cars, new information technology, or beer.  What we know, however, is that the most elemental human issues–social and personal–do not admit of such resolution.  The reason is that human persons in human community are designed for serious, validating relationships that call for mutual care and responsibility; no amount of power, technology, or commodity can be substituted for relatedness.  Thus Israel’s great confession is that at the bottom of reality there is the fidelity of a holy God who seeks relatedness with appropriate partners…

The God of the Bible, of the Old Testament, is a God in relation.  That in turn means that God’s sovereignty is governance-in-relation, marked not only by power but also by fidelity and infidelity.  This recharacterization of God is enormously important, because it requires that God be acknowledged as agent; the agency of God is decisive for the life of the world.  But Enlightenment reductionism–in the wake of classical theology–has worked long and hard to expel agency from religious reflection.  Without agency, however, there can be no partnership.  Thus God as agent in partnership is a God who is always impinged upon, who is capable of a range of emotional engagement, and who is seen in Israel to be capable of remarkable interventions.  Such a God cannot be reduced to code or formula, but requires rendition in narrative and song and oracle…I believe that the notion of ‘partnership’ as a theological datum is of acute importance in a technological society that refuses the interaction championed in this textual tradition.” (Walter Brueggemann, “Preface” to An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible)

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“Holiness in the New Testament is a matter of Jesus going right into the middle of the mess and the suffering of human nature.  For him, being holy is being absolutely involved, not being absolutely separated…Holiness there [in the story of Jesus] is seen as going into the heart of where it’s most difficult for human beings to be human.  Jesus goes ‘outside the city’; he goes to the place where people suffer and are humiliated, the place where people throw stuff out, including other people.  If we take this seriously, the Christian idea of holiness is to do with going where it’s most difficult, in the name of Jesus who went there where it was most difficult.  He wants us to be holy like that.  That is why there is no contrast, no tension really, between holiness and involvement in the world.  On the contrary, the most holy, who is Jesus, is the most involved, most at the heart of human experience…

The holy person somehow enlarges your world, makes you feel more yourself, opens you up, affirms you.  They are not in competition; they are not saying, ‘I’ve got something you haven’t.’  They are showing us something that it’s wonderful simply to have in the world…These people have made me feel better rather than worse about myself.  Or rather, not quite that: these are never people who make me feel complacent about myself, far from it; they make me feel that there is hope for my confused and compromised humanity.  God is big enough to deal with and work with actual compromised and imperfect people.  Looks!  here is a life in which he has come alive.  Real holiness somehow brings into my life this sense of opening up opportunity, changing things.  It’s not about my being made to feel inadequate, or looked down on.  On the contrary, somehow I feel a little bit more myself: not in any way that suggests I don’t need to change, to ‘repent and believe,’ but simply through recognizing God active in the world…

[Holiness is] not about competing levels of how good you are.  It’s about enlarging the world, and about being involved in the world.  A holy person is somebody who is not afraid to be at the tough points in the center of what it’s like to be a human being; someone who, in the middle of all that, actually makes you see things and people afresh.  At the end of the day, this boils down to something extremely simple and extremely difficult, which is that holy people, however much they may enjoy being themselves, are not obsessively interested in themselves.  They allow you to see not them, but the world around them.  They allow you to see not them, but God.  You come away from them feeling not, ‘Oh, what a wonderful person,’ but ‘What a wonderful world,’ ‘What a wonderful God,’ or even, with surprise, ‘What a wonderful person I am too’…

Becoming holy is being so taken over by the extraordinariness of God that that is what you are really interested in, and that is what radiates from you to reflect on other people.  There’s the catch: if you want to be holy, stop thinking about it.  If you want to be holy, look at God. If you want to be holy, enjoy God’s world, enter into it as much as you can in love and in service.  And who knows, maybe one day someone will say of you, ‘You know, when I met them, the landscape looked different’..The truly holy church is taken over by the excitement of the extraordinariness of God; it wants to talk about the beauty and splendor of God, and to show the self-draining, self-forgetting love of God by being at the heart of humanity, by being where people are most human.  Being holy is certainly being unselfish, but not (once again) in the sense of having a policy about how to become unselfish; it is being so interested in God and the world that you don’t really have too much time to brood on yourself…And this means that a really holy person is someone like a great artist or musician or poet.  They help us see what we should otherwise miss; dimensions and depths in the world that we might not otherwise spot…

We start, then, on the path of holiness, with two very simple things: looking–looking at Jesus, looking at what God is like, looking at the gospel, and all that that means; and exploring–exploring where human beings are, what their needs are, what they are calling us to do, how we may help make them more human.” (Rowan Williams, “Holiness,” Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life)

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