Category Archives: Theologians

On Church Discipline

Eariler I suggested that we today are ill at ease with church discipline. I now want to claim that this is as it should be. However, we ought to make sure that our discomfort is for the right reasons. It is not sufficient to object to church discipline on the grounds that we do not like others telling us what to do and think. Being told how to live is something Christians should be used to – after all, we are precisely the kind of people who are trying to think and do what another (Jesus) has already thought and done. And herein lies what ought to be the real source of our discomfort with church discipline: Jesus. I suspect that if Jesus were living his radical life in our churches today he may well be excommunicated. At least he would be asked to tone it down, We may well send two or three people to talk to him about his extremism. ‘Sell what you have and give it to the poor.’ ‘Love your enemy.’ ‘Be servants of one another.’ ‘You hypocrites,’ said to religious leaders. Our response would be, ‘Come on, Jesus, give us a break! You are far too critical. Lighten up and be positive. This is no way to foster church growth.’ Continue reading On Church Discipline

Christian Sense-Making and Peace-Making

The Christian call to be transformed by the renewal of minds is a call to re-narrate all aspects of human existence from the standpoint of Christian sense-making. Our challenge is to answer the question, ‘What does it mean for us to understand the world from the standpoint of God actively redeeming humanity through Christ?’ When we state it this way, the issue is not whether this act or that act is permitted for Christians, as if God, the divine taskmaster, cannot tolerate the bungling and compromising efforts of human finitude. (I suspect God is accustomed to this.) That is, the issue is not whether we can participate with government troops in the liberation of a starving people, or even whether we can always be puritanically nonviolent as we work in complex war-torn parts of the world or in business in our home town. There is no question that the space which the church occupies in this world is ‘complex space.’ Nor is it a matter of living in such an extremely bureaucratised world that responsibility rather than faithfulness is a more adequate paradigm of moral self-understanding. Instead the issue is how we can challenge the sense-making of life apart from God in Jesus Christ. The issue is how we can ‘sign’ that ‘the Lamb that was slain’ is the victor through whom all of history has received its intelligibility. The issue is one of re-reading, re-perceiving the world. The basic practical question for us is, ‘What are the opportunities to say that it is the bombs and the tanks that are out of step with what really drives the affairs of this world?’ The move beyond secular reason is not a move that ignores non-theological sense-making; it is rather on that refuses to regard such sense-making as either normative or adequate unless it can be translated into theological sense-making. It is a move that points out the entrapments, the oppression, the seductions, the temptations to which we are all subject. And since ‘all’ includes those who confess Christ as lord, the first moral act for us is an act of confession and repentance. In other words, the first act of sense-making (reason) is an act of faithfulness (ethics). – Echoes of the Word, 98-99

The problem of knowing what to do with our confessions

When we confess our redemption through Jesus Christ we commit ourselves to a concrete social embodiment of the gospel. Nonconformity is therefore the hallmark of the Christian faith – although nonconformity must be carefully distinguished from non-participation. Nonconformity implies difference but not distance; exclusion yet embrace. I emphasise this matter because I se a discrepancy between what we confess and how we live. For example, we confess belief in non-resistance – although I think ‘peace-making’ would be a better word (Mennonite Brethren Confession, Article 13). Yet a growing number of Mennonites do not believe in peacemaking (let alone non-resistance) in any way that is different from other contemporary enlightened North Americans, who manage to make this conviction consistent with going to war when their nation calls them to do so. Unless our statements of faith help us with what it means practically to be peacemakers as Jesus’ disciples, this cannot be a credible confession.

We confess that our allegiance is to Christ’s kingdom and not to the state (Article 12), but it is primarily our state and not the church that is taking care of our medical needs, our education needs, and our security needs. Again, unless we can answer concretely what we mean when we say our security is not with the state, when in fact it is, we are not confessing properly. Continue reading The problem of knowing what to do with our confessions

Imagination, Epistemology, and Embodiment

The crisis of contemporary theology, I believe, is in the final analysis not a crisis of imagination. That is, it is not at bottom only an epistemological crisis. Today’s crisis of Christian faith is even more so one of embodiment. After all, what it is that we can know has to do with what we see, and what we can see has to do with the place from which we look. When we look from within the shroud of contemporary Western liberal rationality, we will have a hard time seeing the God of the Christian tradition. We will instead see a tribal god, one of our own creation, albeit one very different from any preceding tribe. And a god whom we create cannot save us. Such a god must be saved by us and by our intellectual strategies. Ironically the outcome of a tribal god is the very one the whole constructive imaginative project was intended to repudiate.

However, when our imagination is located within the rich Christian tradition we are not enslaved to the repetitions of archaic images and dehumanising practices. Human rationalities and human experiences change over time because we are living, pulsating, creative beings. Theological constructions must change because the God of Abraham and Sarah, of May and Paul, the God of Jesus Christ, is a living being who grounds and inhabits life itself. And this God who lives within the lives of human beings today has always lived. Unless our theological imaginations can ‘explain’ the ‘continuity of God-language’ convincingly in light of the biblical text and the tradition which has given us our understanding of God to begin with, it cannot meaningfully be said to be Christian theology. Perhaps even more important, the ‘explanation’ ought to be sought not only in the imaginative works of our best intellectuals, but also in the lives of the ones who have remained traditional enough to be able to open themselves to the transforming power of God – the God who has spoken through texts that the church considers authoritative, through the one whom the church calls Christ, and to the community which gathers regularly in worship. – Echoes of the Word, 46

Harry Huebner on Spirituality and Religion

In the beginning of September, after two years away from the university, I will begin a Master’s program at McMaster University. Because we will move in the beginning of August, this new chapter seems even closer than it actually is. Because of this, I have embarked on a quest to read some of the written texts by my most influential teachers at Canadian Mennonite University.

In various applications, I articulated my desire to pursue graduate studies as, in part, a desire to be challenged and changed so as to avoid being too easily pigeonholed in comfortable ways of thinking. If this is true, whither this effort to further delve into the traditions and ways of thinking in which I am already so thoroughly steeped? The answer is that I find oftentimes the most positive changes and most fruitful challenges come when we encounter new persons, worlds, and ideas with a strong and rooted sense of who we are and a deep appreciation for where we are coming from. That is, I suspect that a new program will better serve me the more rigorously I know what I have learned and hold to be true (at least, to the extent that I agree with my teachers). Continue reading Harry Huebner on Spirituality and Religion

The difference between boredom and anxiety

On a more personal note than my current series on Marion, one of the reasons I’ve so enjoyed reading God Without Being is that there is so much material for someone who, like me, is in a more or less constant state of existential crisis. Along these lines, I like the distinction Marion makes between boredom and anxiety. In brief, existential anxiety is chronically worried over the source of beings. What is good? Am I living well or squandering my existence? Is this relationship “real” or founded on fantasy? In contrast, for the bored person beings are there and well-founded and actions may even be clear enough, but who really cares? Boredom is the indifference to the genuine difference that exists all around us.

Between these two, anxiety is something to attend to at least, even if it’s terrifying and debilitating, for “the claim [of…] Being silently utters. Boredom, on the contrary, can hear nothing here, not even the Nothingness/Nothing.” Marion identifies anxiety as the source of Dasein, as that which seeks to found itself on the nothing. In contrast, boredom “displaces man…outside of his status as Dasein.” This because the bored person is not being here and there: he or she is nowhere in particular, nowhere that matters.

So, now you know the difference.

Hauerwas on liberalism and desire

For most part, I’ve only read and heard caricatures and one-liners when it comes to Hauerwas’s critique of liberalism. I recently read Hauerwas’s early and well-worn (for many but not me) essay “The Church and Liberal Democracy: The Moral Limits of a Secular Polity.” I appreciated getting the more sustained critique and look forward to reading others like it. Here’s an excerpt.

Many of our current political problems and the way we understand and try to solve them are a direct outgrowth of our liberal presuppositions. For example, the American government is often condemned for its inability to develop an economic or energy policy, but such policies must necessarily be public policies. Just as it has been the genius of the American political system to turn every issue of principle into an issue of interest, so it has been the intention of our polity to make impossible the very idea of public policy or public interest. Public policy cannot exist because society is nothing more than an aggregate of self-interested individuals. The policy which is formulated therefore must be the result of a coalescence of self-interests that is then justified in the name of the greatest good for the greatest number (but too often turns out to be the greatest good for the most powerful). Liberalism thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; a social order that is designed to work on the presumption that people are self-interested tends to produce that kind of people.

It is often pointed out that there is a deep puzzle about the American people, for in spite of being the best off people in the world, their almost frantic pursuit of abundance seems to mask a deep despair and loss of purpose. I suspect that our despair is the result of living in a social order that asks  nothing from us but our willingness to abide by the rules of fair competition. We have been told that it is moral to satisfy our ‘wants’ and ‘needs,’ but we are no longer sure what our wants and needs are or should be. After all, ‘wants’ are but individual preferences. Americans, as is often contended, are good people or at least want to be good people, but our problem is that we have lost any idea of what that could possibly mean. We have made ‘freedom of the individual’ an end in itself and have ignored that fact that most of us do not have the slightest idea of what we should do with our freedom. – A Community of Character, 79-80

Considering Marion’s Gift: Receptivity, Dependence, and Enjoyment vs Possession in the Prodigal Son

[Find part I of this series here.]

Few would quarrel with Jean-Luc Marion’s claim that the parable of the prodigal son speaks to themes of ownership and possession. It may be more contentious to claim, as Marion does, that this parable promotes the virtue of ongoing dependence and use and strikes against an ethic of self-funding and ownership. And it may sound simply foreign to contend that the prodigal son teaches us how to relate to and encounter truth and the good: as a reception of excessive grace in an ongoing posture of praise and dependence. And yet, I find Marion’s exposition of this parable one of the most compelling presentation of God Without Being’s recurring themes of receptivity, dependence, and enjoyment/use vs possession. Continue reading Considering Marion’s Gift: Receptivity, Dependence, and Enjoyment vs Possession in the Prodigal Son

Considering Marion’s Gift: Prefatory Remarks

For the past year and a half or so, few books have held me as captive as Jean-Luc Marion’s God Without Being. The volume of posts on this blog working with this text is probably an indication of this. Some of my captivation lies in the fact that I am interested in the ways the church can and should claim, name, and confess its central loyalty to Jesus. This is a tricky task. It is not easy to avoid claiming instead the various idols that close us off from Jesus speaking in unexpected places and hold our attention on the voices of false gods. Into such thinking, Marion’s rigorous and evocative efforts to allow for the worship of a God that comes to us as the gift of cruciform love, outside of the logics of Being, speaks with a great deal of potentiality. In this series of posts I want to consider the ways that Marion may be helpful for thinking about the church’s confession of faith and the political formations that might happen with confession of faith. My next post will consider themes of receptivity, dependence, enjoyment, and use vs possession, after which I will consider some of the paternalistic and conservative undertones and implications in these themes. First I will conclude this post with some remarks about Marion’s critique of idolatry and the stakes that I believe are present in his presentation. Continue reading Considering Marion’s Gift: Prefatory Remarks

The Idolatry of Genius, part 2

If what we tend to call genius is idolatry, can there be any authentic creation? If, as I suggested in my previous post, our geniuses are better thought of as workers, again and again making an effort at an incomplete expression while enmeshed in a world of influences and indebtedness, is there only ever context? Geniuses are those who break with convention, define a new era, and pull free from the world’s determining strings. They are where we can find what is new; they are the innovators, visionaries, and pioneers. At their most profound geniuses are those whose creations create, sustain, and define a world, rather than the world defining them. If we say that this image of genius is an idol, a perfect image held in front of us that thwarts good work, can we still claim a genuine and generative power in art? In this post, I hope to begin to indicate a way forward with Jean-Luc Marion’s descriptions of the icon. Continue reading The Idolatry of Genius, part 2