Theology Feed

A Community of Giving

From my theology reading today:

"Finally, the Spirit counters our indolence by placing us within the community of Christ's body. Community helps craft us into good givers. It's in the community that the Spirit suffuses our giving with hope; we hope because are part of a community of hope. It's in the community that the Spirit mold our character; we display a life of virtue because we live in a community that values and fosters virtue. And how does the Spirit energize and direct our talents? We allow the community's needs to lay claim on us, and we seek the community's wisdom to help us discern what we are good at. Finally, it is by the Spirit and through the waters of baptism that we die with Christ and rise to new life in him. We don't receive the Spirit's hope, the Spirit's fruit, the Spirit's gifts, and Christ's life on our own as isolated individuals. They are ours as we are members of a community of giving, whether that community is a family, a circle of close friends, or a church."--Miroslav Volf in Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace

Then a couple of paragraphs later he writes, "Communities don't make givers.  Givers are not made by humans at all.  They are born--born of the Spirit through the good practices of communities."

This spiritual truth is one reason we must resist our current political administration so and create small communities of virtue.


Renounce, Resist, Rejoice

"The church is an Easter community created out of the crucified and risen body of Jesus, enveloped by empires, but not overwhelmed. The church is a graced gathering that has been transformed by the good news of God's life-giving reign. The church is the assembly in which the holy and mysterious presence of Christ Jesus is welcomed. The church on Easter Sunday . . . is called to trust in this good news so deeply that it renounces all that opposes it, resists all that seeks to upend it, and rejoices in God's gracious resurrection power that changes everything, even this current age. Preach to the church, preacher. Preach Easter in the age of Trump. All are awaiting resurrection while we endure this tomb."--Michael Coffey in his essay "Renounce, Resist, Rejoice: Easter Preaching in the Age of Trump" in the Easter 2018 issue of Journal for Preachers.

Francis on Fake News & the Truth

Good remarks and a fine prayer yesterday from Pope Francis on "fake news" and our pursuit of truth.  An excerpt:

Freedom from falsehood and the search for relationship: these two ingredients cannot be lacking if our words and gestures are to be true, authentic, and trustworthy. To discern the truth, we need to discern everything that encourages communion and promotes goodness from whatever instead tends to isolate, divide, and oppose. Truth, therefore, is not really grasped when it is imposed from without as something impersonal, but only when it flows from free relationships between persons, from listening to one another. Nor can we ever stop seeking the truth, because falsehood can always creep in, even when we state things that are true. An impeccable argument can indeed rest on undeniable facts, but if it is used to hurt another and to discredit that person in the eyes of others, however correct it may appear, it is not truthful. We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits: whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.

"An excess beyond all excesses"

An interesting perspective on the Incarnation from R. R. Reno:

It’s easy to step back and denounce the excesses of the Christmas season: the orgy of spending, too much food, too much drink, too many parties, and expensive ski vacations that bring aching credit card hangovers. Easy, but mistaken.

I’m not in favor of spending a lot to finance fantasies of Christmas perfection, nor do I endorse the sort of gluttony and the psychological overload of “special moments” that makes us feel as though Christmas is a celebratory marathon to recover from rather than savor. Yet, the basic impulse toward excess is not wrongheaded. In fact, given the theological meaning of Christmas, it’s altogether fitting in its way.

He then develops this idea theologically:

God does not give himself to us by assembling the good things of life into a giant banquet. Instead, we get Jesus, the infant child, who is God incarnate. God gives himself lavishly and without reserve, but in one and only one present, as it were, not serially, not variously, not like a multi-course dinner spread out over many tables.

Hauerwas: Protestants Won. Now what?

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has an interesting take on Reformation 500 in the Washington Post.  Protestants won.  The RCC has reformed itself to address Luther's critiques. Now what?

That the Reformation has been a success, however, has put Protestantism in a crisis. Winning is dangerous — what do you do next? Do you return to Mother Church? It seems not: Instead, Protestantism has become an end in itself, even though it’s hard to explain from a Protestant point of view why it should exist. The result is denominationalism in which each Protestant church tries to be just different enough from other Protestant churches to attract an increasingly diminishing market share. It’s a dismaying circumstance.

This is an enjoyably provocative essay, but what's missing is an exploration of the ongoing nature of the Reformation, something stressed by most of the traditions.  So though the 16th century issues may have been largely resolved, the Protestant spirit and style opened us up to further developments.  That the RCC may have caught up to the 16th century in the mid-20th doesn't address the 500 years of further development on the part of Protestants.

Radiant Suggestion

For the universe is full of radiant suggestion. For whatever reason, the heart cannot separate the world's appearance and actions from morality and valor, and the power of every idea is intensified, if not actually created, by its expression in substance. Over and over in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs and forever and forever returns, we experience eternity.--Mary Oliver

Luther's The Freedom of a Christian

Today I read Martin Luther's 1520 manifesto "The Freedom of a Christian."  It is quite good.  I will be quoting from the text in upcoming sermons as part of our Reformed series.

At the beginning, he sets down two propositions which are both true: "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all."

Here was a passages I enjoyed:

Since these promises of God are holy, true, righteous, free, and peaceful words, full of goodness, the soul which clings to them with a firm faith will be so closely united with them and altogether absorbed by them that it not only will share in all their power but will be saturated and intoxicated by them.

Since I'm also re-reading Kant ahead of teaching him again in ethics class in a few weeks, I felt the influence from Luther to Kant was clearly evident.  Kant's notion of freedom is autonomy from our desires and from any law other than that chosen by us.  We are freed to act morally. Luther also writes of freedom from the law and that once set free we can live a good life of love as we choose it as a response to God's grace rather than as a necessity to earn our salvation.  Their ideas are not the same, but one can see how Kant's notion would emerge from a milieu governed by Luther's ideas.

95 Theses

Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses: With Introduction, Commentary, and Study GuideMartin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses: With Introduction, Commentary, and Study Guide by Timothy J Wengert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Timothy Wengert's translation is easy and engaging to read, and his introductions and commentary are informative and helpful. A good refresher as the 500th anniversary of the theses approaches.

My favourite segment was from Luther's 1518 sermon on indulgences, which reveals Luther's fun, fiery pen:

Although some now want to call me a heretic, nevertheless I consider such blathering not big deal, especially since the only ones doing this are some darkened minds, who have never even smelled a Bible, who have never read a Christian teacher, and who do not even understand their own teachers but instead remain stuck with their shaky and close-minded opinions. For if they had understood them, they would have known that they should not defame anyone without a hearing and without refuting them. Still, may God give them and us a right understanding! Amen.

I really enjoy the "who have never even smelled a Bible."

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The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art

The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive ArtThe Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art by Luke Timothy Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Johnson begins the book:

Two simple convictions animate this exercise in theology. The first is that the human body is the preeminent arena for God's revelation in the world, the medium through which God's Holy Spirit is most clearly expressed. God's self-disclosure in the world is thus continuous and constant. The second conviction is that the task of theology is the discernment of God's self-disclosure in the world through the medium of the body. Therefore, theology is necessarily an inductive art rather than a deductive science.

With that promising beginning and enticing first chapter the book fails to live up to expectations. It is a thoroughgoing phenomenology of bodily experience, but with little developed theological reflection, in my opinion. For instance, James McClendon places the body first in his theology to much richer effect.

I did appreciate Johnson, a Catholic theologian, entering into a robust discussion of sexuality and gender with a valuable discussion of intersex bodies and what their reality suggests for theology. Again, this is material I've encountered before in queer thinkers, but was refreshing to discover here in Roman Catholic theology.

One of the book's primary aims seems to be a criticism of John Paul II's writing on the body and sexuality. Had I known that the book had that more limited focus, I probably wouldn't have read it.

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