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!