Saturday, January 31, 2009

Christ and Culture: The Enduring Problem

The intro post from a week ago covers the end of this chapter, but there was plenty before it. Niebuhr spends the bulk of this chapter explaining what he means by Christ and what he means by culture. Since he is attempting to include the broad spectrum of Christianity, the definition of Christ is broad, but his summary statement might help (and it might not):
The power and attraction Jesus Christ exercises over men never comes from him alone, but from him as Son of the Father. It comes from him in his Sonship in a double way, as man living to God and God living with men. Beliefr in him and loyalty to his cause involves men in the double movement from world to God and from God to world. Even when theologies fail to do justice to this fact, Christians living with Christ in their cultures are aware of it. For they are forever being challenged to abandon all things for the sake of God; and forever being sent back into the world to teach and practice all the things that have been commanded them. (p. 29).
Niebuhr’s definition of culture is not precise, but he speaks of the elements of it: civilization, human achievement, values, the focus on the good for man, and the temporal and material realization of values.

This leads to a few great sentences before he sketches the options:
Given these two complex realities – Christ and culture – an infinite dialogue must develop in the Christian conscience and the Christian community. In his single-minded direction toward God, Christ leads men away from the temporality and pluralism of culture. In its concern for the conservation of the many values of the past, culture rejects the Christ who bids men rely on grace. Yet the Son of God is himself child of a religious culture, and sends his disciples to tend his lambs and sheep, who cannot be guarded without cultural work. The dialogue proceeds with denials and affirmations, reconstructions, compromises, and new denials.
Working through these is the content of the rest of the book. Chapters are long so it may take a while to get through this, but I think it will be fruitful work…

Friday, January 30, 2009

Encountering Apocalyptic Worlds

I wasn’t planning on blogging this book, but since we’re going through Daniel in college group I thought I would get these thoughts down for the next time I go through Daniel or Revelation in the future. I’m not a big fan of apocalyptic literature, if a pastor can say such a thing. There’s so much crazy imagery and speculation that it seems dangerous water to tread. To say something I feel like you have to speculate. I don’t like speculating; I like when things are pretty solid and we understand what the author is trying to say. That’s why I’ve stayed away from apocalyptic literature. I guess it’s time to grow up and deal with it, though. So here goes…

The first chapter sketches what apocalyptic literature is and isn’t. It is literature that concerned with the destination of the created order and, in particular how the “patterns and conflicts at stake in present experience” fit the cosmic plan rather than a timeline for the future. Cook states, “The apocalyptic worlds of the Bible peer beyond the mundane political and social realities, revealing a new world coming. Profoundly realistic about humanity’s limitations and shortcomings, the literature recognizes that this better world, while a fundamental human longing, will never come as a human achievement. It comes only with the advent of God’s sovereign rule on earth” (p. 22).

In addition to a light/dark duality, apocalyptic literature often has heaven and earth paralleling or mirroring each other. Without opening the text again, I recall Revelation shifting back and forth from heaven to earth. The received definition of apocalyptic in scholarship dates to the 1970s. Cook quotes John Collins’ definition:
“An apocalypse is defined as: ‘a genreof revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world” (p. 26).

We’ll see how this continues to play out through the book. Should be an interesting journey.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Here he goes again!

The new Mariner's GM, Jack Zduriencik has made yet another deal. I'm only familiar with the names of the three guys, but no specifics. I don't have the time or inclination to dig through the stats, but my only "everyday stop" in terms of websites (apart from facebook) is USS Mariner. Be sure to check out their thoughts on the deal. The top 4 stories are all related to the deal. Hint: GM Jack did great ... again.

Monday, January 26, 2009

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

A few weeks ago, when I went up to Washington with Vivian for our Daddy Date Weekend, started reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (check for link in the margin). It is a fictional, though realistic, account of what a day in a work camp was like during Stalin's reign. In the introductory material, I was surprised to see that Kruschev wanted it published to show Stalin's excesses as a leader. Regardless, it was an interesting read for the most part, but I have previously read a couple of Richard Wurmbrand's books, which spoke of his imprisonment for being a pastor who would not go along with Communist leadership. It has been a few years since I read Wurbrand's books, but there seems to be significant similarity, as one would expect. I don't know how to attach links to words, so here are the links to Wurbrand's books:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

“And then Zorn Said to Largent…”

Aunt Leah got me a book for Christmas that was a history of the Seahawks from the perspective of Dave Wyman and Paul Moyer. It was an enjoyable, easy read that told stories of the golden days of the mid-80s, the Valley of Death that was the 90s, and the Holmgren Renaissance. Funny stories and a good inside peek at pro football in Seattle. I wish they’d have had more info on Steve Largent and Jim Zorn (my personal favorite), but it was an enjoyable read for the avid Seahawk fan.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Christ and Culture: Introduction

Over the last few months, though the goal was prior to the elections and everything, I’ve been looking at how the church should engage politically – first through five views on church, state, and public policy and then through a brief book on just war. Now I’m working through a book called Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr. It is considered a classic. I most want to read DA Carson’s book Christ and Culture Revisited, but I figured I should visit before I revisit.

As with the previous books, I’ll roll out the book as I go. There is plenty of introductory material – some by the author, but plenty by others who want to honor Niebuhr. His book is pushing 60 years old. Martin Marty gets defensive when Niebuhr is unjustly criticized. The criticism that some level is that Niebuhr’s different models of Christ and Culture are overly-simplified. Marty agrees with the statement, but clarifies what Niebuhr is trying to do. (I know this may sound boring, but it will possibly keep us from unjust criticism and saying Niebuhr did or didn’t do something that was never his intent).

Niebuhr’s goal in using (shudder the word) generalizations is not to say each person or social activist fits in each one perfectly, but they are generalizations that allow us to speak along basic contours and then details can be tweaked from there. Futhermore, his goal is that people would understand where others are coming from and see, even if one doesn't agree, how those different from us think and come to their conclusions. A noble task in my book. I’ll wade through these five models, as well as an Intro and Conlusion, over the next several weeks (I hope).

But in the meantime, which of these five titles is most appealing to you?

Christ Against Culture
The Christ of Culture
Christ Above Culture
Christ and Culture in Paradox
Christ the Transformer of Culture

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Just War?: Fighting Justly

The issue of just war isn't just on when Christians should fight, but on how they should fight. There is no justification for evil done in the name of good. Just war, according to Cole (see margin for book info), is an act of love. He starts by noting that acts of force can be loving by using the example of a parent punishing a child, even if the analogy is too simple. There is no place for evil in a just war. Augustine said, "...courage decides to endure evil rather than consent to evil" (p. 94), and yet Augustine believed in just war, not pacifism.

The two keys to fighting justly are Discrimination and Proportion. Discrimination is the granting of immunity to noncombatants. Noncombatants should not be killed intentionally. While such deaths are inevitable, intention should be determined by word and deed. If one can justify executing an operation whether or not there were civilians present or not, it seems likely that proper discrimination has taken place. And just because one can see that there will be civilian casualties does not mean it is one's intention to bring them about. One can see the challenges of determining "proper discrimination" in the Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza - at least from my limited knowledge of the conflict.

The second issue is Proportion. This asks, essentially, "Does the intended good outweith the potential consequences of the innocents killed?" This is the responsibility of every warrior.

Along these lines, Cole believes World War II to be just, but the saturation bombing and the atomic bomb unjust tactics. They crossed the line and were indiscriminate and actually targeted civilians. Cole goes on and recognizes the moral challenges of the Vietnam War, but does not fault US soldiers, apart from My Lai and like isolated events, for failing to discriminate their enemy from the civilians. The guerilla armies of the North Vietnamese made this task difficult and one can argue the soldiers did their best. He does question the justice of the war on the grounds that the South Vietnamese were not a country worth partnering with because they, too, were unjust. It may stand on the other points of just war. Finally, the 1991 Gulf War was just and the discrimination, while not perfect, was more perfect than any other modern war - by far.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Just War?: The Criteria for Just War

Cole lays out pretty simply “Why Christians Should Fight” in this chapter with some unacceptable options as well. The good reasons are pretty simple.

1. Proper Authority. You can’t declare war unless it is your place. There’s some disagreement among the different theologians whether revolution is acceptable or not.
2. Just Cause. This is the most difficult issue, I imagine. Self-defense and restoring what has been wrongfully seized are basic, but some of Augustine’s other reasons are debated by some. Tehse are: avenging wrongs and punishing an unjust nation.
3. Right Intention. Is the goal to advance the good and avoid evil? It should be.
War as the Only Way to Right the Wrong. This obviously has to be within reason as those opposed to war could always say there’s something else that can be done.
4. Reasonable Hope of Success. There are some reasons to surrender. It may be more responsible to live under the rule of another than to have your nation leveled.

One unacceptable reason people go to war (that some try to put off as good) is “Comparative Justice.” The idea is, it seems, it’s OK if we’re bad, so long as we’re not as evil as our enemy. But just war is not seeking to be less evil; it is a positive good and an act of love toward the neighbor flowing out of a relationship with God.

One more noteworthy issue is the idea that just war theory grew out of Christian nation-states and the current liberal state that does not favor a particular faith means just war cannot be applicable any longer. Regardless of their stance toward faith, Christians should not support a state that is engaged in an unjust war. Christians must either fight or protest passionately, depending on the justice of the war in question.

Do you find these criteria satisfying? How do they apply to the challenges we face as a nation?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Just War?: Virtue and Warfare

I’ll admit this is a pretty good book (When God Says War is Right by Darrell Cole), but that doesn’t mean I always track where he’s going or how he organizes his book. This chapter seems like it’s in an odd place, but it had good stuff. It’s essentially about the importance of spiritual formation in the lives of warriors. And yes, he argues, the church should be in the business of forming warriors.

The believer’s goal (again relying heavily on Aquinas and Calvin) is loving union with God; beatitude in Aquinas’ terms. Virtue helps the believer achieve that union and act properly in a given setting. The morally virtuous is the one who does so regularly. The four cardinal virtues are prudence (wisdom), justice (rendering each their due), courage (controlling passions that make us act unreasonably or fearfully), and temperance (controlling passions contrary to reason). All of these help a person love well, which is the ultimate point as we are in union with Christ. We ought to love like Him and our character is obedient to Him, functioning as He would function.

Given the development of these virtues, war is a positive good, not just a “necessary evil.” It is an act of love toward those who are being attacked and to your fellow soldiers to fight (there are concentric circles – at least as I understand it – of responsibilities of love). It would be unloving for a believer to avoid engaging a just war when it is called for.

Cole closes with the dismissal of Jesus’ meekness as a model for believers, according to Calvin. Simply put, Jesus’ ministry was priestly reconciliation and sacrifice that is not duplicated by believers. We cannot be a Savior, but we can follow the Father’s command to love our neighbors.

I can feel the tension here between loving your enemies meaning turn the other cheek and loving your neighbor meaning killing enemies who are harming them. Paradigms seem to have much to do with where one ends up on this issue.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Union 1812

I’m not going to blog it, but I thought I’d drop a note to give a recommendation for those who like reading history. Union 1812 by AJ Langguth was great (check the margin for an Amazon link). I don’t read as much US history as I’d like. I may not be the best critic or maybe I’ve chosen well, but I’ve loved all the books I’ve read over the last few years (1776 and John Adams by MacCullough; Alexander Hamilton by Chernow; Undaunted Courage by Ambrose).

I’m always impressed by the courage and characters of our early leaders. This was a great book for introducing me to people I had never known existed. I particularly enjoyed the naval leadership of Oliver Perry. Great book and definitely worth reading. Enjoy.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Just War?: War Based in God’s Character

Our author now sets out on the case for just war with a chapter called “Why Christians Use Force” and it is grounded in God’s character. God is a warrior in the Old Testament (Jer. 20.11; Zeph. 3.17) and the God of the NT is the same as the God of the OT. There is a progression of revelation, not a replacement of the OT God and the OT message. And if one reads Revelation, we see God as Warrior yet again.

The philosophy of just use of force is grounded in God’s character. God is not just loving, but he is just and righteous as well and His warlike characteristics are an expression of His justice, mercy, and love. Sometimes it is difficult to see how God’s love interacts with His wrath (see Joshua) and yet it comes together perfectly as we understand Jesus as the Suffering Servant (Isa. 52.13-53.12).

While Jesus does encourage the turning of the other cheek, the distinction lies in that we must not take personal vengeance, but we do not sacrifice justice. We will, however, sacrifice personal rights for the sake of love. I thought this was a good distinction. Cole states, “Jesus’ goal is to restrain personal retaliation, not to restrain political force, which is, after all, an agent of His Father’s wrath and love” (p. 43).

Calvin puts Romans 13 at the center of his theology of just war. God puts governments in place to secure God’s justice and righteousness in a fallen worldWar may be a result of sin (the Fall in Gen. 3), but it is not evil in itself. It actually restrains evil so people can enjoy God’s created world. . In a just cause, the soldier is a legitimate agent of God’s wrath for righteousness in the present situation. Calvin even calls it a “holy vocation” where soldiers are operating in a “God-like fashion” (p. 47). War is obviously not ideal; peace should be sought before going to war.

Cole gives a summary of “Why Christians Should Fight?” (pp. 48-49)

1. “Christians fight for justice because God is like that. … He uses force to check evil and to bring justice.”
2. “Because of sin, God uses force to work out His will for us,” which is “a product of His love.”
3. “Human political order is the structure God has given to encourage virtue and restrain vice.”
4. “Just war is something Christians do in this world out of loving obedience to God and in conformity with His ways.”