“the redemption of reason”

The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
what kind of wisdom do they have?

Jeremiah 8:9

In a challenging, but interesting article, Dallas Willard speaks of a crisis of reason not only in the universities, but right in our Christian schools. Aptly called, “The Redemption of Reason,” because Willard is making the point that sin through bad philosophy has shipwrecked reason, so that it is now essentially meaningless. And what has gone down with it is any idea of moral knowledge. All lost because it has been separated from its source and ground, or place, from God who is spirit, and why creation exists in the first place (my words in part here; I would highly recommend a slow read of that article).

The Bible is essentially reasonable, even when we can’t track with all that is happening entirely. Taken as a whole, then considered in its parts, we can say without a doubt that there is plenty of sense in the story, whether or not it jives with all of our sensibilities. The problem nowadays is that our outlook has been shaped from centuries of what amounts to essentially bad philosophy in different forms, which end up denying truth because they’re untethered from the one source of truth, God. And so we go gallivanting, who knows where.

Religion is looked down on as something like old school. Of course the one revelation is fulfilled in Christ and the good news in him as unfolded from the pages of Scripture. Reason is very much apart of our faith, essentially Christ’s resurrection in history at the center of that, along with the reality of God mediated to us in Christ by the Spirit.

Where does that leave us? In a crisis even in our Christian circles, because we’ve by and large retreated from reason because of how it is understandably failing in the secular universities. We have done so by placing our study and appropriation of Scripture in a separate category probably without knowing it, because we have to make do in the real world. And Scripture seems different, anyhow. Well it is, and it isn’t. It’s from God, but it’s right down to earth where we live in our humanity. And that certainly includes reason.

Again what’s needed is nothing less than the redemption of reason, according to Willard. And Christians must lead the way, or show the way, because reason itself loses all significance apart from God, and won’t stand on its own, completely dependent on the meaning assigned to it. It’s not like we have to figure out the problem; it’s in the air, just assumed, grounded somehow in whatever human endeavor, good things like science, which essentially can’t be the basis of meaning since God is not in their equation.

So we shouldn’t flee from reason, or be apologetic about it. Instead we need to demonstrate through faith the reasonableness of it all, while at the same time holding on to mystery as part of the story, what’s up, and what God is doing in our lives and in the world. And see the gospel in Jesus as essential in all of this, leading us to God and the new life in him.

beyond make shift ethics

For the director of music. Of David.

In the Lord I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.

For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.

Psalm 11

There’s an interesting article on Jesus Creed on how morality is losing its grounding, particularly from religion. There certainly is a crisis in authority today, no doubt. Everything more or less seems up in the air, up for grabs.

I think Psalm 11 is at least encouraging when considering this. And I think it’s suggestive in terms of the spiritual battle we face as Christians (Ephesians 6:10-20).

God is on his throne, God is at work in the world, and his judgments continue. Humankind has routinely erected its idols. All that is in the place of God is idolatry, pure and simple. And such idolatry has tragic consequences. And the religious, including Christians are not excluded. Idolatry is just as alive and well in places where God is supposed to be worshiped as in places where God is not. And in saying that, I’m not at all suggesting that all churches partake in idolatry, just that there’s that possibility, and it clearly does happen. Like when a human leader is exalted and it’s all about going to hear them speak. That is at least on the edge if not over the edge into idolatry.

And note that the idols more often than not either are, or represent something good. Science within its discipline I take as good. All created things, and our capacity to enjoy them are fine in themselves. But when they’re not received and appreciated as gifts from the Creator, and good in their place, but become ends in themselves, then we move into the realm of idolatry.

Such a realm makes the accumulation of wealth for example an end all, so that often in that quest others are trampled on, not the least of which is the poor. And God will not look past any of that. Or if there is no God it doesn’t matter, we can do as we please, as long as it in accord with the idol in place. Greed by the way is called idolatry in Scripture (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).

Morality is grounded in humanity because humankind is made in God’s image. Right and wrong matter precisely for that reason. And everyone is held accountable. It matters not what we humans construct in place of that, not at all. God will have his say in the end. In the good judgment and salvation to come in and through Jesus.

“do your best and hang the rest.”

A man who worked at the ministry I work at used to say, “Do your best and hang the rest.” Like me he was in the factory end of it, heavy machinery. A good man, hard worker, man of God.

I think there’s plenty good old fashioned down to earth wisdom in that. It actually reminds me of Proverbs in the Bible. Though I can’t think of a Scripture that actually says the same. But I think we can make a case from Scripture, that this is a part of wisdom.

We live in a world with so many variables, moving parts, and unfortunately all is not in sync. Some of us want to do God’s will and some don’t. Many are trying to do the best they can, others not. It’s impossible to avoid networks, connections with people and entities which may not hold to the same ethical principles. Of course Christians differ as well. It’s all a matter of conscience. We want to do what’s right in the eyes of others, and above all in God’s eyes.

We pray and pray, and wrestle through at times, not knowing for sure what to do. Then we make decisions, trusting somehow God is in them. And we always want to be open to whatever God would have us do.

God looks at the heart and one’s intent. We make mistakes along the way, and there are times they need to be corrected, other times not. God will give us the wisdom to know, though that may take time. All of this processing a part of gathering wisdom. In and through Jesus.

Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.

 

the free fall in our society– the church and the state

I really struggle over the relation of the church and the state. I respect scholars and Christian traditions in their various takes on the matter. I think there’s often good we can take out of varying viewpoints.

That said, I also think the so-called “Constantinian turn” of the church when the Roman Empire became formally Christian, was in some sense the death knell of what the church is called to be in the world: a witness to another lord, the one true Lord, and to the one good news in him. One can plausibly argue otherwise, and surely some of what they say will have plenty of truth in it. But a major problem I see today in the United States is the emphasis on the importance of the morality of the state, as if it somehow ought to be Christian in some way or another. This is the case from both the religious left and the religious right, the former emphasizing world peace and the right to do whatever, and the latter emphasizing a certain morality as in “family values.” Both have a code of ethics, but the attention is turned almost completely to the state, it seems.

Regardless, this is my take on the current sea change in the United States, of course same sex marriage, etc., all in the equation. The church needs to hold the line both on the teaching of the gospel: the good news concerning Jesus, and righteousness: God’s will in Jesus. And of course, that is to be a witness for the world, hopefully impacting the state for good. But the church must neither be influenced by the world, nor expect the world to be influenced by it. If I read the Bible right, that is. But to hear people both from liberal, progressive and conservative perspectives, you would have to think that much depends on what the state is doing, that is all that essentially seems to matter, and the church is present to applaud and support that.

It doesn’t matter one whit what the world does, what the state does, the church must kindly tow the line, holding to the teaching of our Lord, of righteousness. The church always must pray for the state, and be a witness to it of the power of Christ and the gospel. And it does need to be present for the good of all, including the state, praying for its blessing, as well as for the good of all people.

But the church must be careful not to compromise its calling to be a witness to the one good news in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus.

what about victims?

After Osama bin Laden’s death I offered a Christian response to it. But one matter I did not work on was victims. What about the thousands of  victims of the evil acts on that Tuesday, September 11, 2001? Of course we rightfully mourn their deaths, and the loss to their families and friends, and indeed to us all. And we mourn the loss of all the lives lost as a result of that day, from Iraq to Afghanistan, and anywhere else.

There is no doubt that by evil deeds, many have lost their lives, and continue to do so. And we don’t demean people by calling them evil. We expect this kind of act from mere animals. But humans carry with them the dignity of being made in God’s image. And with that comes moral responsibility. Which is why in Genesis God in speaking to Noah, perhaps for that time sets in place capital punishment. Which I take that Jesus later abolishes, not to be part of the ethic of God’s kingdom come in him.

Victims are to entrust themselves into the care of God, and leave room for God’s vengeance and judgment on the evildoers. All the time doing good for them out of love, hoping and praying for their salvation. At the same time victims can’t help but have thoughts and feelings which reflect the Psalms which are called imprecatory, calling down God’s judgment on those who are their foes. But while we do well to express those thoughts to God when they come, Jesus calls us to something different, no less than love for them with the hope of their salvation. And he exemplified that on the cross, when he asked the Father to forgive them, since they did not know what they were doing. Stephen, the first Christian martyr later exemplified that same spirit as he asked God not to hold his death against the ones who acted in it.

Victims, and all who witness their plight, must beware of returning evil for evil. Instead in Jesus we’re called to return good to those who do evil against us. In a sense, while an evil person can harm any innocent, the innocent can descend into something of that same evil in their hearts, if not acts. The innocent is to call the one, or ones who harmed them, or their loved ones or friends, to account. Evil deeds must not be watered down in the least. But the innocent must beware of retaliating in like fashion. Instead the matter is to be entrusted in God’s hands. And forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice for all sin, is to be offered to the repentant offender.

The victim is not to be forgotten. But there needs to be an end to the cycle of violence which can be unleashed. That end is in Jesus and by his death. By that death ultimately all wrongs are made right. Repentant sinners are brought into reconciliation with God and with each other. And all is made well.

In this world there will be trouble. But in Jesus there is the final answer to all trouble. And we are to seek to live out that answer in the here and now, in anticipation of the time when all people will be blessed in this way in and through Jesus.

See Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation.