In a recent interview with Peter Enns, author and theologian N.T. Wright notes that in America, “the spectrum of liberal conservative theology tends often to sit rather closely with the spectrum of left and right in politics,” whereas, in other places, this is not quite the case:
In England, you will find that people who are very conservative theologically by what we normally mean conservative in other words, believing in Jesus, believing in his death and resurrection, believing in the trinity are often the ones who are in the forefront of passionate and compassionate social concern of a sort which if were you to transport it to America would say, oh, that’s a bit left wing.
I think what I want to do is to uncouple some of the connections which people have routinely made, particularly in America, and to say actually the whole idea of a spectrum, whether it’s theological or political, is probably very misleading because there are all sorts of insights that we need. We need to get them from bits of the Bible we don’t normally expect and perhaps from people in bits of the church we don’t normally expect.
Such liberal/conservative match-ups certainly exist, and tend to differ regionally as Wright indicates. But I’m not so sure the mere existence of such differences provides all that special of an occasion for “uncoupling” one’s connections. Though I can appreciate certain aspects of Wright’s various attempts to prod us outside of claustrophobic spectrum-think, he’d do well to stretch his own legs while he’s at it.
I, for one, have read far too many of Wright’s books and lectures, absorbing striking insights and compelling exegesis, only to find out by chapter 4 or 5 that all of his enriching talk of “putting the world to rights” crumbles apart in basic application. But alas, where I come from, being “in the forefront of passionate and compassionate social concern” is, well, a bit right wing. (more…)
Discussions about faith-work integration are on the rise, with an ever-increasing number of related books, sermons, and blog posts (ahem) appearing with every passing day.
Over at Faith, Work & Culture, Jeff Haanen poses a challenging question to the movement, asking, “Is the faith and work movement just for white guys?” (HT):
Just a cursory glance around the faith and work landscape, and you’ll find a bunch of middle class white men (with the occasional woman or Asian). So what’s going on here? Does integrating your faith and work only matter for white professionals and not African-Americans or Latinos? (For the sake of this post, you’ll have to excuse some generalizations.)
After offering a brief history of 20th-century American prosperity and the widespread self-actualization that followed, Haanen offers his hypothesis:
Twentieth century America did not bless all ethnic groups evenly with wealth and comfort. African Americans lived under the thumb of institutionalized racism even years after the civil rights movement, and struggled for years to acquire the kind of jobs, and thus material comfort, that their white counterparts did. Today, it’s mostly Latinos who occupy the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder; they make even less than blacks per capita across age groups.
All that to say this: while white guys were wondering about their purpose in life, blacks and Latinos were just trying to survive.When I was a pastor of a Latino congregation, it wasn’t terribly surprising that questions of existential despair or vocational fit never arose. Dignity and providing for the family trumped “fulfilling the cultural mandate.” Getting a job and paying rent was a bit higher on the hierarchy of needs.
Haanen’s point about disparate shifts in the makeup and distribution of work is an important one. The minimum-wage McDonald’s worker will likely face a host of spiritual challenges distinct from those faced by the white-collar executive. Likewise, the differences in time and comfort outside of that work will play no small part in defining that struggle. As Haanen also indicates, “intangible” factors like racism are bound to transform these struggles further, even among workers in the same job type and industry.
But having recognized all of this, it’s also important to recognize that just because a worker hasn’t the time, resources, or energy for armchair theologizing on “vocational fit,” it doesn’t mean that meaning, purpose, and transcendent activity isn’t taking place amid the strenuous circumstances. Whether or not we are actively thinking and talking about “cultural mandate,” the basic dignity of our work and the basic activity of serving society and providing for one’s family is an integral part of fulfilling that mandate. At a certain level, “needs-based” work has a forceful way of tempering our individualistic inclinations, and at that level, I think we need to seriously reconsider how closely we’re aligning “vocation” with our own personal preferences or our end-game goals. Does God not also call us to that initial job or task that begins a longer trajectory filled with other more “fulfilling” things? (more…)
A recent study by the Barna Group examines the generation gap within various Christian traditions in the United States. The Millennial Generation (roughly anyone currently 18-29 years old) has become increasingly dissatisfied with their Christian upbringing. According to the study,
… 84% of Christian 18- to 29-year-olds admit that they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests. For example, young adults who are interested in creative or science-oriented careers often disconnect from their faith or from the church. On the creative side, this includes young musicians, artists, writers, designers, and actors. On the science-oriented side, young engineers, medical students, and science and math majors frequently struggle to see how the Bible relates to their life’s calling.
There is, it appears, an urgent need for Christian traditions to develop and employ a robust theology of vocation, especially with regards to arts and science related professions. Indeed, according to the article, “The Barna study showed that faith communities can become more effective in working with the next generation by linking vocation and faith.”
As a Millennial myself, I found the study especially fascinating. The approach when I was a teenager was that the bigger the sound system or video screen or the more “alternative” sounding the music, the more likely a church was to keep us around. Maybe I am not a good representative of my generation as a whole, but I remember finding this approach especially shallow and even a little insulting. I wanted a deeper faith, something that stands out from the world around me, not something nearly indistinguishable from it. Perhaps if more churches would take the time to show how the Gospel of Jesus Christ permeates all facets of life, especially our vocations, fewer of my peers would be leaving those churches behind.
Greg Forster’s latest response to Sam Gregg, Acton’s director of research, on the utility of John Locke’s thought today is up over at Public Discourse. There’s a lot to learn from reading these exchanges, but right now I want to focus just briefly on one of the criticisms that Sam levels against Locke. Comparing Locke’s definition of Law to that of Aquinas, Sam finds Locke to be quite wanting. For Locke, “Law’s formal definition is the declaration of a superior will.”
“How different this is from Aquinas’s understanding of law,” writes Sam, “as ‘an ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by him who has the care of the community.’”
In one sense Sam is quite right. These are quite different formal definitions of law, the former presumably more voluntaristic (defined in relation to the will, the volitional faculty) the latter intellectualistic (defined in relation to the intellect, the rational faculty). For Sam this is in microcosm the problem with Locke, as he embodies the voluntaristic and therefore nominalistic proclivities of Protestantism, abandoning the eminently reasonable teachings of the Angelic Doctor.
My point here is not to defend Locke. Greg goes on to do that ably enough and in great detail. But I do want to reiterate the point that even apparently quite different definitions of law can be reconciled depending on how the relationship between the will and the intellect is defined. Thomas certainly has his own view, but so did lots of other medievals, and the Reformers picked up on the diversity of medieval opinion.
And it simply isn’t the case that the big bad “nominalists” like Ockham, d’Ailly, or Biel, were in principle opposed to defining natural law in terms of right reason. They just had a different way of relating the question of the divine intellect and the divine will. Maybe they were wrong. But at least on the question of voluntarism/intellectualism (the former of which need not lead to nominalism: see John Duns Scotus), there is ample Augustinian precedent for not seeing a “rationalistic” and a “volitional” definition of law as necessarily incongruent.
Thus Lombard, following Augustine, writes, “God’s will is reasonable and most equitable” (Sentences, bk. 1, d. 42, cap. 1).
And as a concluding aside, for an example of a Protestant scholastic who directly appropriated Aquinas’ definition of Law, see the recently translated scholia of Franciscus Junius in the Journal of Markets & Morality, “Selection from On the Observation of the Mosaic Polity.” His first thesis? “The Law is the ordering of reason to the common good, established by the one who has care of the community.”
My friend Joe Knippenberg notes some of my musings on the field of “philosophical counseling,” and in fact articulates some of the concerns I share about the content of such practice. I certainly didn’t mean to uncritically praise the new field as it might be currently practiced (I did say, “The actual value of philosophical counseling (or perhaps better yet, philosophical tutoring) might be debatable.”). (more…)
The first item, “Santa and the ultimate Fairy Tale,” quotes Tony Woodlief to the effect that “fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale.” Schansberg’s (and Woodlief’s) take on this question is pretty compelling and worth considering, even though I’m not quite convinced of the value of the Santa Claus fable.
I’m still a relatively new parent (I have a three and a half year-old) and so I’m still in the midst of sorting out with my wife the best way to handle questions of the reality of Santa Claus. Until very recently, I had always been of the opinion that honesty is the best policy.
I’ve never liked the idea of putting God and Jesus on the same epistemic level (even if only for the first decade or so of a person’s life) as say, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus. Rather than “preparing” the child for “embrace of the ultimate Fairy Tale,” it seems to me that such practice can foster a hermeneutic of suspicion, such that when the child finds out Santa Claus isn’t “real” in any empirical sense, he or she will, at least initially, be inclined to lump God in with other “fairy tales.” That kind of approach seems to lead as much to Freud as it does to Lewis.
I don’t mean to be a killjoy. I’m a lover of literature. I am interested (along with Tolkien) in the question of whether the proper pluralization of dwarf is dwarfs or dwarves (I too prefer the latter). I was an English major in college, and I admit to getting a bit teary-eyed when Zooey Deschanel leads a group of hard-bitten New Yorkers in a rendition of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” at the climax of Elf.
And I agree that we need to cultivate the sense that the realm of empirical science isn’t the only or even the best way of talking about ultimate reality. But again, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that for our children we need to prepare the way for the Gospel with fiction, even well-meant fiction. If my child can’t rely on me to tell the truth about Santa, why should he believe what I have to say about God?
Rather than pointing to how such fairy tales pave the way for belief in the “ultimate Fairy Tale,” I’ve always thought that the youthful belief in Santa underscores the fundamentally fiduciary nature of human beings. We are believing creatures. We basically trust, at least at first, what other people and especially our parents tell us. We aren’t born cynical or un-trusting, but rather dependent and credulous.
This is an important thing to know about humans from a theological and anthropological point of view, but equally important is the recognition of how wrong that credulity can go. We are basically believing creatures, but without the Gospel that belief is corrupted and we create idols for ourselves. Would you say believing in Mardukh, Mammon, and Ba’al “prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale”?
All of which leads me to the item I thought of when reading that first post: the famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial from 1897. As you might guess from my comments above, I have mixed feelings about the editorial, but I thought I’d recommend it since it seems so relevant to Schansberg’s point.
The other post of Schansberg’s that caught my attention was his other Christmas Day offering, in which he contrasts the Lord of the cradle, the cross, and the throne, calling for a comprehensive apprehension of Jesus Christ.
That made me think of this quote from Ed Dobson about Jesus, contained in a story from the Christmas Day Grand Rapids Press (I was out of town so I only got to it over the weekend):
“Everybody loves a baby,” mused Dobson, 58. “But when you start reading the teachings of this baby, and about the sufferings of this baby, you begin to understand better who he is.”
The story goes on in a lot more detail about Dobson’s recent history since retiring from his pastorate at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids. There’s a lot more of interest in that piece.
But his quote speaks quite pointedly to Schansberg’s emphasis on the comprehensive Christ. We need to know of his birth, death, and resurrection.
“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.’” – Luke 7:9
There are only two instances in the New Testament where Scripture refers to Christ as being amazed. One is in the 6th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus is amazed at the lack of faith of the people in his hometown of Nazareth. The text in Mark’s Gospel notes, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”
In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 7:1-10) Christ says he was amazed by the faith of the Roman centurion. The passage from Luke teaches some important points about authority and humility which is extremely relevant to us today. The centurion was in charge of one hundred soldiers and understood his authority and his position of leadership. He knew quite well, and according to the passage was confident, that when he spoke certain words or commands, they would be obeyed, whether he was there to oversee his orders or not.
Furthermore, when his servant or slave became terminally ill, he showed the utmost compassion. He did not view the servant as being replaceable or merely as property, but the passage says the centurion valued him highly. This would not have been a common view for a Roman official in regards to the value of a slave. In addition, the centurion was a friend to the Jews, and was responsible for funding a synagogue.
The Jewish elders he sent to intervene for the healing of his servant also personally vouched for his character and friendliness to the Jewish people, despite his overt representation of a conquering army. The centurion sent them because he felt he was not worthy to be amongst Christ as a Gentile, as he later told Jesus through friendly messengers on the way to his house, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.”
Amazingly, the centurion recognizes the authority of Christ and his power over sickness and the power of death saying through another, “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” He had not even met Christ, and still hadn’t met Christ, but surely he had heard stories of his authority and power, and thus believed in his ability to heal his servant of imminent death. He recognized the ability of Christ to transform any circumstance and defy nature, so much so, he believed Christ did not have to be physically present to work miracles. It was an awesome validation of the power and authority of Jesus over the created order.
Even more so, Luke wants us to know this faith came from an unlikely source. The unexpected faith of the centurion is contrasted with those who were expected to believe but did not. Christ himself says in John’s Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.”