Random Links #329 on Theology

Egoism versus Pluralism: The Crucifix Decision

He’s not as well known as Jürgen Moltmann, and Wolfhart Pannenberg in the English speaking world, but Eberhard Jüngel is always worth conversing with.

How can the Christian church represent this universal claim of the gospel which in truth is a universal consolation without problematicing its capacity for pluralism? It can only assert its truth claim in a petitionary way. The formal claim of the truth of the gospel to universal validity and obligation does not contradict the material substance of the gospel as the word of reconciliation. In the power of beseeching authority, the church can be active in forming the world without being synchronized to the schema of this world. “The faith that has lost confidence in forming the world becomes completely private and appointed for destruction. Faith would be robbed of its own creative will if it is misused for alien goals or sinks in depressive paralysis.”

Three Horizons: Hermeneutics from the Other End―An Evaluation of Anthony Thiselton’s Hermeneutic Proposals (pdf)

I have two thick books by Thiselton which is important in my understanding of Hermeneutics. This paper gives a good quick critical overview of his approach.

Theological Temptations: Grandiosity

My USA Filipino friend had a more graphic image for this which shall remain for private consumption 🙂

Of the many theological temptations that can plague the theologian, grandiosity may be one of the most subtle. Grandiosity is that aspect of fleshliness that allows one to find their identity in what they do – and it is used as a means to create a self that is greater, stronger and solidified in a way their true self is not. It tends to trade knowledge of theology for knowledge of God and self, being convinced that one’s labors are always kingdom labors, and that one’s effort is of the highest order.

In this sense, it inclines the theologian towards existential bi-polar angst. In other words, there is no middle ground. Everything they do jumps from perfection to pointlessness. Their craft as a theologian lacks purity because it is done to seek approval from others and is grounded in their self-identity and meaning. Praise for their work fuels the endeavor while critique sheds light on their deepest fears that they really don’t know what they are talking about. Other theologians who are brighter, more well-read and advanced in their theological reasoning are either seen as necessary compatriots who they need to be aligned with, or they must be in some way undermined, either in character, in viewpoints or in background.

The closer one is to fundamentalism, in many cases, the more grandiose is one’s view. This stems, in part ( I believe) from the apologetic character of fundamentalist theology. This kind of thinker becomes the theological equivalent of William Wallace, wielding apologetic material rather than a two-handed broad-sword. I have no doubt that you can imagine certain theologians who see their own work as single-handedly holding back the forces of darkness. They become convinced that if they stumble, so falls the church and God’s work in the world (we might call this an Elijah complex (1 Kings 19:10)).

But, of course, this cannot be tied to fundamentalism alone. Theology easily becomes the mode in which to work out angst against one’s fundamentalist background, against authority, against….anything. The theologian, in no lesser terms, can will to power, seeking to advance their own cause even through liberating prose. Soon, and just as easily, theology is so tied to one’s identity that proving their point equals proving their worth. The quest for perfection in both work and life leads to a lack of realism in both work and life, and all theologians can fall into this trap. Realism is attached to vocation. In Thomas Merton’s words,

…the fulfillment of every individual vocation demands not only the renouncement of what is evil in itself, but also of all the precise goods that are not willed by God.

The Princeton Theological Review on “Theological Exegesis” (pdf)

Nice to have free journals online.

The Only Way to the Only God?

We get this question all the time isn’t it? Perhaps more as a protest than a question? The following paragraphs jump out for me.

* Christians need not reject everything about other religions. They acknowledge areas of both agreement and disagreement, and struggle over the latter. In most areas of human knowledge, when you encounter contradictory views you don’t throw up your hands and concede, “they’re both true.” No, you study hard, make an informed choice, then remain open to further insight. Note, too, how this Christian view is far more tolerant and liberal than atheism. Whereas pluralism claims all religions are true, atheism claims all religions are false; Christians reject both of those positions in favor of a middle ground.

* I agree with the liberal Jewish writer Michael Kinsley that it’s not wrong or intolerant to try to convert other people. If you think that someone is wrong on some issue, it’s entirely reasonable to try to change their mind2 Christians should vigorously protect and promote the right of every person to hold any faith or no faith at all, and extend to every individual and culture unfailing courtesy and kindness. We should never prohibit, hinder, manipulate, or coerce the beliefs of others. But that doesn’t mean you can’t conclude that someone’s beliefs might be false and consequently try to persuade them of your understanding of what’s true. Pluralists like Hick wrongly imply that you can’t disagree with a person and still be nice to them.

* A rule of thumb in Bible interpretation is to understand the complex and ambiguous parts of Scripture in light of simple and straightforward passages. For Christians it’s unthinkable that God will treat any person of any time, place or religion unfairly. We are unqualified optimists when it comes to the character of God. There are many things in the Bible that I don’t understand, but I have absolute confidence that God will treat every person with perfect love and justice (Job 34:10).

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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