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Harry Merryman
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Craig, Thank you for this. It seems profoundly un-Christian to rejoice at the death of anyone, no matter how necessary or inevitable it may have been. Such expressions seem to deny one of our core beliefs: that God's grace and redemptive love extend to all--even those who have injured us. We may have every right to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent injury and abuse (a topic for another post, I wager), but when such steps result in the destruction of another life, it seems more an occasion for sober reflection, not thanksgiving. Harry
Toggle Commented May 5, 2011 on Responding to the Demise of Bin Laden at Metanoia
Craig, Thank you for this response to the Wells/Harding-Douglas/Wells proposals. I couldn't agree more with your sense that we cannot "think our way into the Way." Stated differently, the Church will fade into irrelevence if we must start with the navel-gazing that Wells and Harding seem to be advocating. The Jesus I encounter in the Gospels is talking about doing, not doctrine. The only bone I would pick is the reference to the Tillich-Barth divide. We simply must find a way to marry these two perspectives, as the Spirit reveals God's passion and will both through looking inward and heavensward.
Craig, Thanks for your response. Bottles of wine and discussion sounds good! As a starting point, I admit I feel that the bodily resurrection requires “demystification.” It belongs to the same category of stories about Jesus as, for example, the virgin birth, walking on water, and bringing Lazarus back to life, i.e., to a category of stories that are a stumbling block—not just to Greeks—but to modern types like me when their historical factuality is asserted as a sign of Jesus’ divinity, authority, etc. that should convince me to believe in Him. To my way of thinking, rejecting the factuality of the bodily resurrection does not diminish the possibilities of seeing the powerful meanings of the resurrection. In fact, I think it increases the probabilities of apprehending those meanings. Put another way, any focus on the factuality of bodily resurrection diminishes the stupendous meaning of the resurrection in my view. I will certainly put Wright’s book in my reading queue, and my guess is I will heartily agree with what he says about the meaning of the resurrection. As for the Eschaton, here again I admit that I have little need for this concept as I see it originating (at least in Christian theology) from the experience Jesus’ followers in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Though helpful to them in their historical context, it has since become a theological staple, and one that I think is very unhelpful in our age. I realize that rejecting eschatology carries with it some of the heavy burdens you suggest (e.g., our apparent finitude, being “bound in time and space”), and I would love to talk more with you about this. However, my bottom line is that the concept of the Eschaton implies that God is waiting until some future time to make things right (don’t get me started on Hal Lindsey!). That is not a god I can believe in. Put another way, there are no “between times.” There is only one time, and we’re in it. So we better get to work. I just don’t think this is something we can equivocate about. I appreciate the opportunity you provide to think about and discuss these things. So . . . do you prefer red or white?
While one might agree with the thrust of Wright's point about the possibilities for new life revealed in Jesus' death and resurrection, I have two difficulties with this quote. First, the doctrine of bodily resurrection presents a stumbling block for many and does not seem necessary to make the point. If Wright is referring to the resurrection of the body as an "explosive" metaphor, as oppposed to a factual occurrence, then I am more comfortable. However, as the quote stands, it appears that he is proclaiming that the bodily resurrection was an historical fact and an essential tenet of faith. This runs the dangerous risk of negating -- or at least diminishing -- the power of the metaphors and meanings he wants us to read into the resurection (much of which I agree with). My second difficulty is with Wright's apparent belief that the new creation he speaks of, while we can "work [on it] in the present," will not really happen until "God finally does it." This implies that God is "out there" watching our struggles and will intervene when He is ready. (I may be mis-interpreting Wright here, but this seems to be the plain meaning of his words.) This runs the risk (like supernatural theism, in general) of diminishing the immediacy and urgency of the call to action and a new life. In short, it diminishes the importance of our work "in the present" because the real renewal will happen in the future. The possibility for transformation and new life exists right now. God has given us everything we need to make it happen.
Craig, Thanks for your response. Yes. I see that you are saying that MLK was not a Christian Realist, and you may well be right, at least as he came to see Christian Realism working itself out during the cold war. I'm not so sure how MLK viewed the stakes in, say, WWII. But I get your point. My point is that a more charitable (and I would argue, accurate) view of Niebuhr's thought (or Christian Realism) would not conclude that he (it) would countenance a "pragmatism . . . [that allows] us to justify whatever seems necessary as ethical on the basis of Jesus' name, while insulating us from the need to take seriously the claims on us of the Christ on a Cross." Were this "the ethical system that animates the reasoning of President Obama," I would agree that Christians (indeed, all Americans) should be concerned. However, I think a fair reading of his speech in accepting the Nobel Prize demonstrates that we need not be too concerned about Obama, at least on this account. On the other hand, it is precisely this ethical system (which I see as a caricature—if not a perversion—of Niebuhr’s thinking) that typically concerns me about politicians who are supported by those of our brethren described as the “Christian Right.” And of course, we should not be surprised when the spiritual and intellectual contributions of giants like Niebuhr are twisted or selectively used to “fund” projects (such as American Civil Religion) with which she/he might well passionately disagree.
Craig, I am trying to catch up on some of your previous posts, so please excuse such an outdated response. . . I will readily admit that I am no expert on Niebuhr, but it strikes me that characterizing his concept of Christian realism as ". . . the Golden Rule distorted so that what’s demanded is limited and conforms to what seems necessary" to be overly harsh. From what I know (admittedly limited), Niebuhr struggled with what he saw as the reality and inevitability of sin in human nature and asserted that only Christianity held out the hope of enabling humans to see this reality. Further, only by seeing this reality could we hope to combat it. His experience led him to believe that living a life informed by Christian morality was more possible in individual relations than in relations between groups and nations. To his way of thinking, social and international justice might be influenced by Christian morality, but in the political realm, power is ultimately determinative. From this perspective, action often involves choosing between the lesser of two evils. I do not get the impression that this is posited as an ideal state of affairs. Rather, Niebuhr is saying that we should be clear-eyed about the "reality" (as he sees it) and not delude ourselves into thinking that we can act with pure intent. This is at the heart of what I think Obama was saying. Personally, I prefer this self-conscious, tentative "ethical reasoning" to politicians who confidently claim or imply that their positions reflect true Christianity. I think Christians have more to fear from self-proclaimed idealists (like George Bush?) than they do from thoughtful realists (like Obama). Like Niebuhr--and many, I suspect--I struggle to see how a good person can be a successful politician and fulfill the requirements of the categorical imperatives of discipleship. On the other hand, if there is something we may agree on, it is that Niebuhr was overly cynical and pessimistic about human possibilities and the power of love. He may be forgiven for this, I think, given the era through which he lived.
I'm enjoying your posts. As a lifelong Episcopalian, I appreciate the centrality of the Eucharist as the sacrament that best conveys our relationship with God. However, I don't find the notion of becoming a "burning bush . . . so that the world may know the fire, the name, Jesus Christ" particularly inspired or inspiring. I would like to think that becoming a "burning bush" would require more than proclaiming one's faith in Jesus, no matter how ardently. However, if being a burning bush means taking action in the world -- action that is inspired by the apperception of God's passion as revealed in the risen Christ -- then I'm on board (and less bored). In this regard, I prefer the sentiment conveyed by the old hymn: "they will know we are Christians by our love." -Harry Merryman
Toggle Commented Oct 4, 2010 on Naming God - Stanley Hauerwas at Metanoia
Harry Merryman is now following Craig David Uffman
Sep 26, 2010
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Sep 26, 2010