Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Good Friday (according to Moltmann): Where Theism and Atheism Go to Die

'The question of the existence of God is, in itself, a minor issue in the face of the question of his righteousness in the world. And this question of suffering and revolt is not answered by any cosmological argument for the existence of God or any theism, but is rather provoked by both of these. If one argues back from the state of the world and the fact of its existence to cause, ground and principle, one can just as well speak of "God" as of the devil, of being as of nothingness, of the meaning of the world as of absurdity...

Here atheism demonstrates itself to be the brother of theism. It too makes a logical inference. It too sees the world as the mirror of another, higher being. With just as much justification as that with which theism speaks of God, the highest, best, righteous being, it speaks of the nothingness which manifests itself in all the annihilating experiences of suffering and evil....

A radical theology of the cross cannot give any theistic answer to the question of the dying Christ. Were it to do so it would evacuate the cross. Nor can it give an atheistic answer. Were it to do so it would no longer be taking Jesus' dying cry to God seriously. The God of theism cannot have abandoned him, and in his forsakenness he cannot have cried out to a non-existent God....

But did Christ really solve the "problems"?... That was not Camus' view.... He saw God vanish on the cross, but he did not see Christ's death on the cross taken up into God. Yet only this change of perspective indicates why the night of Golgotha gained so much significance for mankind. Crude atheism for which this world is everything is as superficial as the theism which claims to prove the existence of God from the reality of this world....

[A] trinitarian theology of the cross no longer interprets the event of the cross in the framework or in the name of a metaphysical or moral concept of God which has already been presupposed ... but develops from this history [of Jesus Christ] what is to be understood by "God".'

- Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 221, 225-6, 247

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

College Event: Gender, Sexuality, and the Church

Here's a glimpse at the college event I'm running next week. On day one I'll be lecturing toward a theology of gender and sexuality, on day two we've got a lecture from our Principal, a film and a couple of panels who will lead us into discussion about gender roles and norms; on day three and four we've got presenters from both sides of the Church of England's same-sex marriage debate, and on day five we finish off with a film to help us reflect on the kind of people and community we want to be as we carry forward in love.


Monday, February 09, 2015

Marriage and Family as 'Covenant and Calling' (according to Robert Song)

As its subtitle says, the argument of Robert Song's 2014 Covenant and Calling is oriented Toward a Theology of Same-Sex Relationships. I won't be talking about that here right now, but I do want to highlight one of the running threads throughout this book which--regardless of whether I'm persuaded by the book's overall argument or not--I find to be rather evocative and enlightening. 

In the excerpts below I've tried to pull out and arrange the quotes that highlight this thread most clearly. It has to do with our understanding of marriage and family (or not-family) as particularly-discerned callings, the content of which is filled in by our primary covenant with Christ.  I think you'll see there are all sorts of things one could talk about here (so let me know if you'd like to do just that).

'For the sake of clarity, in this book I will regularly refer to faithfulness, permanence and procreation as the [created] goods of marriage. 

By faithfulness, I mean not just the commitment of the partners to forsake all others and stay faithful to the marriage bed, but also to provide mutual support, protection and love. By permanence is meant not an indissoluble, sacramental bond which makes divorce ontologically impossible, as found in Roman Catholic teaching, but the moral bond created by the promise of faithfulness so long as both partners shall live. By procreation I mean an openness to having children as the result of the couple's sexual relationship, mindful of the fact that not all marriages will in fact be fertile' (7).

Today's evangelical Christian typically views only the first two of these as essential to Christian marriage, but on Robert Song's observation still tends to construe 'childless marriages' according to a 'deficit model, defined by what they lack.' This leads him to ask: 'Might we not be able to imagine an alternative response to the place of deliberately childless marriages that hints at something altogether more constructive and hopeful?' (33).

'[I]f marriage is in part constituted by its procreativity and yet procreation is not possible, it is not clear what feature of marriage will ensure that such couples will be oriented to the good beyond themselves that is ordinarily embodied in children.Children symbolize, and in their demands on their parents they actualize, an openness to hospitality that prevents marriage collapsing into an egoistic and complacent coupledom' (34-35).

'Could [childless couples] also bear eschatological witness to the goods of faithfulness, permanence and fruitfulness, and thus participate in the corporate ecclesial discernment of vocation, in which some are called to bear witness to the goods of creation [via procreation], and others to creation's fulfilment in the coming Kingdom [via other kinds of fruitful hospitality]? (36).

'Might it be that after the birth of Christ covenant partnership is the deeper and more embracing category, with procreative marriage now being the special case?... All covenant partnerships would be characterized by faithfulness, permanence and fruitfulness, but in some cases that fruitfulness would take the specific form of children from within the couple's sexual relationship, in other cases it would take the form of any number of kinds of works of charity...

This would bring out the theological truth, and not just the moral exhortation, in Gregory of Nyssa's counsel that once children have left home and a couple's immediate responsibilities to them have died down, the couple themselves to works for the poor...

It would revivify the Christian understanding that marriages are always for something beyond themselves, not just for the personal fulfilment of the couple. Just as we saw that covenant partnerships must always be characterized by fruitfulness in doing the works of the Lord so as to avoid the dangers of an égoïsme à deux, so we would understand that procreative marriages are also always oriented to procreation as a species of fruitfulness and therefore oriented beyond themselves.

Marriages too carry the danger of forming introverted happy families, and need to be reminded that children are a good in themselves while also pointing beyond themselves, inasmuch as they are tokens of the hospitality and openness to the other that all marriages are called to. 

The witness of the Christian Church in marriage would then clearly be demarcated not as a paeon to the nuclear family, let alone to patriarchal models of marriage, but rather to the avoidance of self-centred and consumerist models of marriage and family. Marriage enriches society and strengthens community, yet it does so not by raising new generations of consumers, but by nurturing people who are capable of love' (89-90).

Thursday, February 05, 2015

'Death before the Fall': Creation perfected through suffering?

I've been thinking about the creaturely expanse of God's creative and redemptive plans, including the (possible) place of animal suffering within those plans (not least because I'm preaching on 'Knowing God in suffering' this Sunday). If you find yourself wondering about things alluded to here, I do recommend Osborn's Death Before the Fall and David Clough's On Animals.

'As unsettling as it may be for some readers to discover, nowhere in Genesis is the creation described as "perfect." God declares his work to be "good" or tob at each stage and finally "very good"--tob me'od--at its end.... 

In Deuteronomy 32:4, we read that God's "work is tamim" or "perfect" ... [but when we read it] in its full literary context, for example, we find that God's tamim work of creation--his "fashioning" of the children of Israel--is revealed precisely in the long, perilous and conflictive process ...

If the reading I have offered so far is at all correct and God recruits the creation at each stage to play an active, participatory role in what follows, with Adam being charged with an especially vital task of "subduing" other parts of the earth, then there is a very good theological reason why God declares the creation to be "very good" rather than "perfect" ...

There is ... a strong sense that while creation is in one sense "complete" at the end of the narrative, it is not yet finished. God "ended his work which he had made" (Gen 2:2)--that is, he completed what he had completed. But the story of God's creative purposes for his world has in fact just begun....

The fact that God "rested" or "ceased" from his work on the seventh day may therefore represent not a termination point but a deeply pregnant pause. There is more to come, and we must wait to hear God say the words "it is finished."'

- Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall, pages 28-32
(paragraph spacing altered for blog-readability)


Osborn spends far more of this book contesting young earth creationism than I cared to read, but he does offer a compelling reading of the Bible along the lines indicated above. That said, there are aspects of this which don't quite 'sit right' with me--so you're not alone if this causes you some consternation!---but I think this needs thinking about, and I'm happy to carry thoughts and discussions forward rather than close them off in pre-emptive conclusions.