The Emergent Theological Conversation

Monday, January 03, 2005

reflection by Jack Wolfe:

In Chapter 1 Volf writes, “our coziness with the surrounding culture has made us so blind to many of its evils that instead of calling them into question, we offer our own versions of them -- in God’s name and with a good conscience.

It is so easy to allow our own culture to become something that we worship itself and see it as most “Holy“ when he went on to say that Black Baptists felt more comfortable with Black Muslims then their White Christian brothers. Is this not an indictment on both from the standpoint that the Blacks feel more comfortable with their culture and the Whites must not be able to find a place in Christ to create fellowship?

It is stated concerning different cultures that we not be held captive by our own cultures but what is it that we should turn to. How do we live as Christian communities with different tribes and fractured societies different cultural groups?

The question is asked what should the relation of the churches be to the cultures be where the churches find themselves.

The Book of Revelation says that there will be one from every tribe and tongue and nation I wonder what that will look like. And if we are to mirror what is going to happen in Heaven then it is something that we should think about.

Volf does an interesting job discussing the life of Abraham and his leaving his own country -- what did it mean for him not to belong to his country and culture?


At 8:25 PM, Blogger Ecclesial Dreamer said...

Great post. very well done.

I was really challenged by Volf's explanation of how Paul resolved the conflict between the universalism and particularism of his Jewish faith in the one true God. Volf claims that Paul's first move is to relativize the Torah. I think there is plenty of evidence to support this claim. If this is the case, then what prevents us from relativizing certain things in our own faith?

Rereading this book has been really enlightening. I appreciate your insights on this chapter, Jack. Would be nice to see what others are gleaning from this book as they prepare for the conversation.


At 4:04 PM, Blogger Derek said...

The Pharisees were the ruling class of their day among the Jewish people. They grew out of the response to the collapse of the monarchy. They developed into a half nation, half church group that was centered on preserving their heritage in the face of exile and dispersion. And so, they incessantly sought separation from the "heathenizing forces" of their day. What resulted was a sense of superiority to the Gentiles.

It seems to me that the Pharisees were more concerned with their cultural identity as Jews than they were with their religious identity, or rather the former had so influenced the latter that they became one in the same; their cultural identity took precedence while being propagated with "religious force" (p37). In light of this background, could Jesus's admonitions to the Pharisees be grounded in a "belonging without distance" (p.50)? Could it be that Jesus is denouncing those who refuse to cut "the ties that so profoundly" define them (p. 38) so that there is no room for the other?

It reminds me of M. Night Shyamalan's THE VILLAGE. Though we can go too far in our "departing", most often we draw such strong lines of belonging to keep what we fear out, but what we fear follows us. For, what we fear is inside of us. The uniformity wrought by self-autonomy or by homogenizing culture is our deadliest enemy. People just like us are the people who can most hurt us.

We need prophetic voices that challenge us, that call us to ultimate allegiance in Christ Jesus.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger George said...

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At 9:21 AM, Blogger George said...

This chapter addresses the familiar question, “How are we to live in the world and avoid being of it?” To live in the extreme of avoiding the world is to forsake any redemptive evangelical quality, which Volf states is a requirement of desiring to transform the world. To live completely in the world is to accept and participate in evil. (p.52)

I enjoy Volf’s use of Abraham to image the idea of departing. As Volf comments, the first narrative regarding Abraham’s departing in obedience to God, who would make his name great and bless the entire world (Gen.12:1-3), is juxtaposed in contrast with the Babel narrative characterizing a people who would make a name for themselves and not be scattered over the earth (Gen. 11:4). The terms name and identity are essentially synonymous. Faith in the One God required a departure, for it separated those who would seek to become gods from the people of God who would find their identity in Him. God’s people needed a new identity, and as Paul states, the people of new identity would become a blessing to the entire world, which was an advance proclamation of the gospel (Gal 3:8). The blessing of the world required Abraham’s distancing.

Regarding Paul, I don’t believe he relativized the Torah. There is another interpretation of Galatians and Paul’s relationship with the Law. I believe that Paul’s argument in Galatians asserts that the Torah intends to lead people to faith, and therefore the Law required Paul’s movement to faith. Paul’s movement did not require a relativizing. Paul did have to distance himself from the Jewish Pharisaic tradition, discussed in Derek’s post, but he didn’t move from the Law—he simply understood it more clearly and fulfilled it. I affirm Paul’s distancing from geneology and his embrace of Christ as significant and important aspects of distancing. Christ calls us to Himself, even at the risk of alienation from family.

On page 48, Volf states that “Against the cultural expectation that women be silent and submit to men, in Pauline communities they speak and lead because the Spirit gives them gifts to speak and lead.” I realize Volf has a whole chapter on gender later in the book, but this statement seems odd to me. Was not Paul instructing Timothy on community conduct in 1 Timothy (1 Tim. 3:14-15)? If he’s not advocating male leadership, as Volf states, what does Paul mean when he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12) What about the 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 passage demonstrating subordinationism (Volf, p.182) and prescribing headcoverings, “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” This passage supports the subordination of women in all of Paul’s churches. Whether we affirm or decry gender roles, Volf’s statement regarding Pauline communities is not a statement that can be supported from the biblical texts, unless it can be demonstrated that Paul did not write 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, or Titus. I don’t know Volf’s position Pauline authorship, but if one holds that Paul is the author of the 13 letters traditionally attributed to Paul, Volf’s statement does not uphold the integrity of the texts.

Volf’s comments on Christian community and the integrative nature of local churches and the universal church are wonderful and most welcome. The Church is churches. The churches are the Church. We all could do well in our congregations and in our attitudes to heed Volf’s statements. As Christians, Christ calls us to embrace each other, including those coming from different traditions that hold to what Paul calls disputable matters (Romans 14:1-15:13).

I appreciate Volf’s textual movement thus far. In his preface and introduction, he begins with some personal stories and cultural observations demonstrating the need for embrace and exclusion and the Cross’s calling for both. Then here in chapter one, we see the biblical call upon us to do both—exclude evil and embrace Christ, with some great examples from the Old and New Testaments. Volf’s integrative posturing of these two dynamics is refreshing. We anticipate further explanation of how to embrace while being discerning and to exclude while being redemptive.

1. Are there structures embedded in the administration of the church that seeks embrace along with the exclusion of evil, i.e., did the apostles initiate any ongoing community structure to embody the posture of embrace and exclusion?

At 3:29 AM, Blogger Jason Clark said...

I found the motif, of 'nomadic departures' pages 40-41 insightful.

That departing is endemic in our culture, to be nomadic as selves, always moving, and in that departing, people think they are on the edge , but are by nature always in the middle.

Made me think again of the nomadic journey of consumerism, to always be about to depart, and as a result always be in the middle.

Also resonated with me in terms of emerging church identities, that being nomadic is not about being on the edge, but journey is something very different.

At 3:35 AM, Blogger Jason Clark said...

Page 51, 'No church in a given culture may isolate itself from other churches in other cultures declaring itself sufficient to itself and to its own culture. Every church must be open to all other churches'.

What a great critique of the islotationism, and exclusion of churches, that think they are correct, have arrived, are doing it properly, and of the concomitant 'post-church' movement.

I look forward to seeing how Volf conceives of this 'catholic cultural identity' being worked out, in later chapters.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Derek said...

Acknowledging and opening ourselves to the universal church is essential. As Jason cites, to neglect it is to declare ourselves sufficient in and of ourselves (p.51). When we think that we have all the answers we close ourselves off from everything else, maybe even the Truth right in front of us.

I wonder, if I had been a Jew living around Judea during Jesus Christ's physical, earthly life, would I have missed it? Reading the Bible, it all is so clear and makes so much sense. But, if I had grown up with rigid lines of identity--having distorted the lines which God had drawn, having forsaken dependence and reliance upon God and then petrified extraneous rules into vital traditions which defined me and my people for over a thousand years--could I have received the Truth? Would I have created space?

The church is a lot like marriage, it is "to make you holy not happy." Learning to live with and love people that you disagree with is one reason why we need a catholic community. If I can't even embrace my fellow brothers and sisters of different doctrinal positions, if I can't love them by self-giving and making space for them, how can I say I love God? The unwillingness to do the former makes the later an impossibility.

I think this is why emergent is so important. Man! I wish I could make it to the conversation.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger danm I am said...

Hi, all. As I hurry up to complete readings for next week's Conversation with Dr. Volf, I notice a surprising silence about the role of women in Christ's church. George's comment below about Paul & the subordination of women,to the best I can see, was left unchallenged (forgive me, George, if I've misunderstood your meaning!)--and Danielle's summary of Chapter 4 of Exclusion and Embrace--on Gender Identity--elicited no comments whatsoever. Now, I don't want to over-react to the silence (since that's my proclivity, as well), but just in case...

At the risk of preaching to the choir, and/or betraying that I'm a theological simpleton, I'd like to try to defend Volf's take on Paul & female leadership in the church, against George's critique thereof. Not because I'm near intelligent enough to do so well, but out of conviction that the many women who are not only attending but also leading at this Conversation will find men willing to sit under their teaching, to their own benefit and to the honor of our Savior.

Basically, I'd argue that the Scriptures, in Paul and through the life of Jesus, proclaim a countercultural embrace of the heretofore excluded female half of the population--and not just of their presence, but of their gifts for leadership, as well.

Just because Paul sent specific pragmatic cautions and instructions to specific communities of faith does not mean, logically, that the details of such instructions are expandable into universal (here: exluding) paradigms. Nor that a differing conclusion undermines the integrity or inspiration of the other texts. Certainly the proscriptions must be acknowledged and contextualized, but Paul himself cautioned us not to build an exclusive doctrine out of them: "Gang, this is my best take on it, and since all us churches are in agreement, let's just go with it (for now)." (I Cor 11:16)

A faithful Pauline exegete may just as readily posit Galatians 3:28 as a more foundational theological core value. She might also point to the honor Paul pays women such as Phoebe in Rom 16, and his willingness to be taught by Lydia's insistence in Acts 16.

We haven't even ventured into an exegsis of the many 'embracing', respectful moments Jesus had with culturally excluded women (including receiving a slightly sassy push-back from the Syro-Phonician woman in Mark 7) and the commission of a woman as the first evangelist after the resurrection.

Anyway, those are my thoughts in a nutshell (they never seem to get any bigger than that particular volume allows--and I'm eager for conversation where others may feel I'm wrong.) Shalom...


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