The Emergent Theological Conversation

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Preface and Introduction: "The Cross, the Self, and the Other"
thoughts by Tony Jones

The concept of "Otherness" is quite possibly the biggest philosophical/theological problematic of our day. As the great promise of Enlightment was gassed in the Holocaust, philosophers and theologians first tried to describe what went wrong, and have since tried to press forward into new, uncharted waters. Volf's doctoral advisor and theological mentor, Jürgen Moltmann, has written that he is attempting a "theology after Auschwitz." We -- as humans and as Christians -- have an abysmal track record at dealing with Otherness.

Some interesting themes emerge in MV's introduction. First of all, his is no ethereal theology, conceived in the safe and sterile confines of a seminary office. As I'll share when we meet in February, I had the terrifying honor of visiting MV in Osijek, Croatia in the Fall of 1993. Amid building pock-marked with bullet holes, U.N. troops patrolling the streets, and a Serbs surrounding us on three sides, he was teaching Eastern European seminarians and beginning to work on this book. Exclusion and Embrace is truly grounded theology, grounded in MV's own real-life experience of both exclusion and embrace.

Secondly, I think it interesting that he distances himself from social analysis, opting instead to focus theologically on human agency. This is a significant choice, since so much of postmodern social theory is structuralist and post-structuralist, denying that humans really have any agency; instead, they propose that we are trapped in systems that unconsciously control us. This seems like an idea that a Christian theologian would want to reject, but it will be interesting to see how MV navigates the realities of human agency and the issues of systemic sin which so clearly lead to much exclusion.

Finally, MV sends us several signals that he is equally wary of modern and postmodern sensibilities. We'll have to watch closely for the "third way" that he proposes between these.

Well, there's lots more to talk about in the intro, so drop a comment below with your thoughts!

9 Comments:

At 9:54 PM, Blogger Ecclesial Dreamer said...

I suspet that Tony is spot on when he says that it is interesting that Volf moves away from social analysis and towards human agency. The most challenging part of the introduction still decenters me every time I read it:

"the will to give ourselves to others and 'welcome' them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgement about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity. The will to embrace precedes any 'truth' about others and any construction of their 'justice.' This will is absolutely indiscriminate and strictly immutable; it transcends the moral mapping of the social world into 'good' and evil.'"

The power of this book as framed by the introduction is not that it has the thing we need to change/redeem/transform/evangelize/what-ever-else the world but that it calls us to a radical change. And I love the way that Volf assumes diversity. The goal for Volf is not uniformity. The danger for us is that we will move too quickly past our own need to "will to embrace" prior to defining "truth" and "justice" or any such thing.

Volf seems to be opening the door to a thought that puts sharp teeth to our "incarnational," "missional," rhetoric. We cannot hope of "justice," or fulfill our roles as ambassadors of reconciliation until we possess the will to embrace.

I am anxious to participate in this discussion because I struggle in deep places in my soul and numerous relationships in the context of my life to "will to embrace" the other.

Just my two cents...

James

 
At 2:19 PM, Blogger George said...

On p.18, Volf asks the question, “But am I not making too much of identity?” It is somewhat unsettling that Volf would even have to address the potential of some within the Christian tradition to question the role of identity in the life of the Christian. In my view, Christianity is nothing but a new-identity-forming endeavor, an endeavor that requires the constant assessment of not only self, but also the world, since we interpret the world through world-formed frameworks prior to and even after our knowledge of Christ. Indeed, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). To remove identity from the concern of Christianity is to resort to a law-based life of slavery, for only in the re-formation of identity can we follow the slander of the cross in freedom of spirit! Volf’s concern is of paramount importance.

From my read of this section, one could assume Volf is not concerned about local churches or groups of local churches, which ultimately make up the Church. I don’t believe Volf would be in that position, but I need some clarification. I make this statement from his emphasis on social agents, and not social arrangements. I realize Volf considers social arrangements quite important, but even in the ones he mentions, such as political, economic, and civil, I don’t see Christian community. Additionally, he comments that the theologian should focus less on social arrangements and more on fostering social agents and on shaping a cultural climate in which they will thrive (p.21). I believe that the purpose of the theologian, or any gifted person, is the maturation of the church (Eph. 4:11-16), which is a social arrangement. Is the church Volf’s “cultural climate,” or am I simply asking questions that Volf is not intending to address and therefore trying to make Volf say more than his intention? I do see church as a social arrangement and that theologians should primarily focus on maturing the Church in order for it to become mature and do ministry in this world.

Questions to which I will be looking for answers:

Does Volf see biblical theology as a sub-discipline of systematic theology? How does he see his work participating in the revival of biblical theology? (p.30)

I believe the activity of Christ is the building of His Church (Matt 16:13-20). How does Volf’s proposal play a role in the building of the church, in both its local and global forms? How does he see this material making its way into the maturing processes of non-theologians?

 
At 9:59 AM, Blogger Jason Clark said...

Page 17, where Volf refers to Derrida and 'totalitarian identities' of european and then american colonialism, led to opression and destruction, dehumanisation etc, and it is not the truth of those identities but the will and desire for them that 'fuels' the resultant conflicts.

This made me wonder if the meta narratives, totalising metaphors, are less about the truth, as much as people claimed they were about truth, and more about the desire for homegeneous identity.

And today the desire for 'truth' or the desire to abandon 'truth' are the same ongoing identity crises being played out.

 
At 10:03 AM, Blogger Jason Clark said...

Page 18, 'the one and the many' that volf refers to within social identity and agency, is something Colin Gunton addressed theologically in 'The one, the three and the many', working from a trinitarian theology.

As Volf goes on the appeal (and I think rightly so) to trinitarian approaches, Gunton might be someone from the UK many reading Vold will not have heard of, but who deal with this theolgy from a european, Barthian, and somewhat greek orthodox view.

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger Jason Clark said...

Page 19, the long footnote referencing the nature of 'tribal identity', is fascinating. In terms of 'complexity, tribes that form identity by openess to interactions with others, allow tribes to form that are not defined by exclusion of others. Reminded me ot the power of the conversation we try to form with Emergent, and how we could go even wider with our conversation partners.

 
At 10:14 AM, Blogger Jason Clark said...

Page 21, Volf references Z Bauman and that post-modernity creates a climate of evasion of responsibility, and commitment avoidance, that people see no moral responsibility for involvement.

As a pastor I bump into this social agency all the time. Supra individuation, seems to be the curse and antithesis of discipleship.

So often we try to change our ecclessiology, to fit our social agency, and yet the process, the nature of the discipled self, entails something far from the normal supra individual.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Volf explores this further, and how we need to change ourselves rather than the social arrangements around us.

 
At 10:18 AM, Blogger Jason Clark said...

Page 24, and the idea that we can find comfort in the cross only if we too are praticipating in the process of being crucified, reminds me of Luther Theologia Crucis.

God is revealed supremely in the cross, but also the nature of 'self' is refvealed most in the cross, and when we participate in it.

Too often our social agency of self, is concerned about the 'Theologia Gloria', the benefits of resurrections.

 
At 10:32 AM, Blogger Jason Clark said...

Page 22-24, the metaphor of 'solidarity' drawing on Moltmann's work, for the atonement, seems timely given the nature of current soterioglical debate and the questioning of 'penal substitution' as the foundation for the 'gospel'.

Many years ago at seminary I was warned that Moltmann was wrong, and an immutable God could not have suffered in any form, however much solidarity he had with us.

But more and more as I try to make sense of the world, and the problem of evil, and suffering, this idea of solidarity, that God in his self giving experiences our sufferings, and suffers himself, and
not only pays the price for our sins, but for the cost of suffering that was allowed by the creator within his creation, brings me more comfort, than an angry God needing to be apeased.

This is the scandal of the cross, the cry before the 'dark face of God', on page 26, where we find ourselves in the company of the crucifed, and our hope is in the resurrection depsite our experience of seperation from God, that is ongoing much of the time.

 
At 10:35 AM, Blogger Jason Clark said...

Page 22-24, the metaphor of 'solidarity' drawing on Moltmann's work, for the atonement, seems timely given the nature of current soterioglical debate and the questioning of 'penal substitution' as the foundation for the 'gospel'.

Many years ago at seminary I was warned that Moltmann was wrong, and an immutable God could not have suffered in any form, however much solidarity he had with us.

But more and more as I try to make sense of the world, and the problem of evil, and suffering, this idea of solidarity, that God in his self giving experiences our sufferings, and suffers himself, and
not only pays the price for our sins, but for the cost of suffering that was allowed by the creator within his creation, brings me more comfort, than an angry God needing to be apeased.

This is the scandal of the cross, the cry before the 'dark face of God', on page 26, where we find ourselves in the company of the crucifed, and our hope is in the resurrection depsite our experience of seperation from God, that is ongoing much of the time.

 

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