The upcoming Christ Church Ministerial Conference looks great. It’s entitled Type and Antitype: Seeing Christ in All of Scripture. Here’s the line-up:
* Reading the Old Testament with New Testament Eyes: The Necessity of Typology
* The Second Adam and the New Eve
* Hebrews: A New Testament DeuteronomyDouglas Jones
* Reading Pictures
* Practicing the Imagination
* Destroy This Temple: Typology of the Sanctuary
* A Ram Without Blemish: Typology of the Offerings
* Death and Resurrection of David: Typology and Structure of 1-2 Kings
* A Trinitarian Typology of History: Discerning the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Hebrew History
* My Father Was a Wandering Moralist: How to Hear and Read the Gospels
* The Da Vinci Code Be Damned: A Typological Reading of Mary Magdalene
Last year’s conference on the Trinity was great, and I’m definitely looking forward to this one!
Last weekend, one of my elders was talking to some Jehovah’s Witnesses who showed up at the door. In the course of the conversation, Dale made a great application of some of the things I’ve learned about the Trinity from men such as Jeff Meyers and Ralph Allan Smith.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, worship an idol, a god who is not triune, a hermit god (to borrow Doug Jones’s phrase). They also believe that God is eternal and that creation isn’t, and that God is love.
“Well,” Dale said (and I, of course, am merely paraphrasing him), “how can you have love without having an object of that love? On my view, as a Christian, God the Father always had His Son and His Spirit to love and they loved Him in return. But you say that God is love and that for eternity He was alone. So how can He be love without anyone to love?”
They admitted that they hadn’t ever thought about that. And though I had thought about the hermit god of Unitarianism being loveless and dull, I’d never thought about using this sort of argument in connection with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Good work, Dale!
The latest issue of Books and Culture contains an article by Roy Anker on the filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski.
I haven’t seen much of Kieslowski’s work â€” only the Three Colours trilogy (twice) â€” but what I’ve seen I’ve greatly enjoyed. In fact, if you were to ask me to name my favourite movie, I just might say Red. Someday I hope to see The Decalogue and The Double Life of Veronique.
Anker sums up Kieslowski’s filmmaking this way:
He is a lean, minimalist storyteller; the old-fashioned word “gracile” fits best. His editing pares away anything that does not deepen the story’s emotional and narrative depth. Typically his films feel much longer than they are â€” not because they drag, but because they immerse viewers in the dense tangle of a world fraught with death, love, tragedy, hope, choice, change, and, very possibly, the love of God.Through all of this, in a chief feature of his accomplishment, Kieslowski stays remarkably nonverbal, trusting to events and images to arrest, disclose, and move. Which is exactly what his films do, over and over again, stories so simple and spare that they seem parables. People, events, conflict, silence, color, and music all brew up together to mesmeric effect. And always there are faces, lovely and otherwise, on which Kieslowski’s camera dwells as if to exhibit the soul.
The current age is a particular challenge for preaching a particular God who is manifest to us in Jesus the Christ. For some time now, we have been in the mire of something called “spirituality,” which in my experience tends to be decidedly anti-traditionalist, anti-institutional, amorphous, vague and therefore undemanding.
Spirituality is what I feel when I feel better than I did before I felt it. It is a big, accommodating basket into which I can put almost anything I want to feel about the “higher power,” or “spiritual force,” or “my own little voice,” or whatever I call whatever it is that makes me feel better.
Listen to the defense of public schools by members of teachers’ unions, local educational associations, or professors of education in universities, and one hears few new ideas and no radical proposals. Instead, they tend to blame parents. This seems odd since these are often the very same people who have been telling us for decades that they are “professionals.” (A major ? though usually unstated ? function of public education, as articulated by founders such as Horace Mann, has been to detach students from their parents in order to make them more dependent upon the state for their primary means of making sense out of the world.) So, after having our children for about eight hours every day and after receiving our tax money, now they say that it is up to us parents to teach our children after we get home from work or they cannot be taught.
The truth is out. Education is not a matter for “professionals.” Education is a mystery, a complex interaction between human beings who care about one another. The positive effects seen in some home-schooled children suggest that parents may very well know more about education than the educators. ? William Willimon, “I Was Wrong About Christian Schools,” Christianity Today 37.2 (Feb. 8, 1993): 30.
Though we love to think of ourselves as self-made people, in our better moments we know that who we are is a gift â€” the sum of the countless gifts we have been given by God and other people. As the great preacher Paul Scherer once said, “I’ve always lived my life in the red â€” a debtor to others who have given me so much.” (A person who claimed to be “self-made” was once called, by a preacher of my acquaintance, a man built by unskilled labor.) â€” William Willimon, “Gospel Stories: A Preacher’s Voice,” Christian Century 110.3 (Jan. 27, 1993): 76.
Our first efforts with the pen are servile imitations. It requires much experience and exercise of writing before we can write like ourselves, and not like our favourite author, the newspaper, a Government form, or the advertisement on the outside of a cereal packet. â€” Austin Farrer, A Study in St Mark, p. 32.
In the entry before last, I mentioned William Cavanaugh’s Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ. I read the book a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it very much, if “enjoyed” can possibly be the right term for a book on torture.
Torture and Eucharist is based on Cavanaugh’s doctoral dissertation (written under the direction of Stanley Hauerwas). It focuses on what happened in Chile â€” and in particular, what happened to the church in Chile â€” during Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990). Under Pinochet’s regime, the enemies of the state â€” or suspected enemies or potential enemies or, for that matter, people who were not (yet) enemies â€” were frequently “disappeared” and tortured by agents of the state. Gradually, the church in Chile learned to respond to the state’s oppression.
Cavanaugh begins with a helpful, though deeply disturbing, discussion of torture. Torture, he says, is just as much an attack on social bodies as it is on individual, physical bodies. When you are in pain, you are isolated from others. You cannot focus on past allegiances or future plans; your whole world shrinks to your body and its suffering. As used in Chile, torture is a tool designed to create individuals, to separate people from their attachments to other social bodies, including the church, so that there are only individuals under the power of the state. Torture is a form of discipline, training people to become disciples of the state, actors following the script the state writes.
At first, however, the church in Chile was not able to respond adequately to Pinochet’s oppression. Cavanaugh provides a trenchant analysis of the “New Christendom” ecclesiology promoted by men such as Jacques Maritain, which is still widespread in the Roman Catholic church today (see John Kerry’s comments below) and which seems remarkably similar to what I’ve heard Presbyterians speak of as “the spirituality of the church.”
According to this view, the church deals with man’s soul, with man’s inward, spiritual life. The church may attempt to persuade men of certain moral positions and to shape their consciences, but it has no coercive power and certainly may not get involved in politics. Politics has to do with the temporal, not the eternal. It is physical, not spiritual. It is external, not internal. It isn’t the church’s area of competence. The church should leave that realm to the experts and focus instead on its own carefully circumscribed role, namely, the care of the soul.
As Cavanaugh explains, however, adopting that view entails handing people’s bodies over to the state. “New Christendom” ecclesiology crippled the church in Chile so that she was unable to resist the state’s oppression â€” and all the more so because the oppressors themselves, including Pinochet and many, if not all, of the torturers, were themselves Roman Catholics. As one bishop said, “To resist an atheist dictatorship is easy; what’s difficult is to resist a Catholic dictatorship” (cited on p. 80).
As the oppression intensified, however, the church continued to care for the suffering people of Chile and drew on itself the wrath of the oppressors for doing so. Over the years, the church began to respond, first by discussions with the leaders of Chile and then more strongly, through public protest and, most importantly, through ecclesiastical discipline.
The church began to develop a new ecclesiology, centred on the Eucharist, by which the church is united into a social body, a body which is necessarily political and which is concerned not only with souls but with bodies. Eventually, the church began to excommunicate torturers, policing its own bounds, declaring publicly who is and who is not a member of its body. And as it declared some outside the body, it also intensified its bonds with those inside the body. The Eucharist created solidarity, and that solidarity enabled Chilean Christians to resist the state’s attacks. The church’s discipline, forming people into disciples of Christ united to each other, enabled her to stand up to the state’s discipline.
That’s a fairly superficial summary of Cavanaugh’s book, however, and does not do it justice. I recommend the book highly. Cavanaugh writes well and the book is quite understandable. It is also extremely thought-provoking.
At the same time, I was left with some questions. I’m not sure what role, if any, Cavanaugh would assign to the state. Many times, he talks about what “the state” does or wants to do, and I’m not always sure if he thinks this is necessarily true of all states or not. At times, Cavanaugh (and similar writers) make me wonder what role they think there should be for civil government. Of course, that’s part of the reason Peter Leithart wrote “For Constantine” in Against Christianity.
Cavanaugh strongly dislikes “Constantinianism” and “Christendom” and wants to maintain that the church isn’t an alternate polis. But, as Leithart and others have pointed out, that is exactly what the church is (though not exactly in the sense Cavanaugh has in mind).
In Philippians 3, for instance, Paul says that the church’s “commonwealth” (politeuma) is in heaven. The church is a colony of heaven. It is a city within the city, a colony within the (Roman) colony of Philippi, with a calling to colonize its surroundings, advancing faith in the gospel, which is the good news that Jesus (not Caesar) is the true Lord and Saviour.
I appreciated much of Cavanaugh’s discussion of the Eucharist. I have to admit, though, that I can’t make head or tail out of some of the things he says. For instance, “the earthly Eucharist is the eternal action in time of Jesus Christ” (p. 223). I don’t have a clue what “eternal action in time” means, but it seems vaguely Platonic. So, for that matter, does Cavanaugh’s discussion of secular vs. Eucharistic time, in which he says that “secular” time is linear and Eucharistic time is … well, I don’t know, but not linear somehow, because it entails past, present, and future all at once. Perhaps it’s just because I’m new to this sort of Eucharistic theology, but I found this approach hard to grasp.
I am also not convinced by Cavanaugh’s claim that the church doesn’t excommunicate but merely recognizes that someone is self-condemned and has put himself outside the church by his actions. That approach seems weak. Indeed, it seems to me to smack of some of the same kind of gnosticism Cavanaugh is striking at throughout the book, because it implies that the church merely recognizes what people themselves have done; she doesn’t have the power to effect something by excommunication. But Paul speaks of the church’s discipline as actually doing something, changing someone’s status, putting someone outside (1 Cor. 5).
On the whole, though, I found Torture and Eucharist very profitable, not only for its analysis of what happened in Chile, but also for its analysis of torture as a disciplining anti-liturgy and of the Eucharist as a counter-politics whereby we become more and more the body of Christ, a body which must be guarded by excommunication. Again, in spite of my questions and reservations at a number of points, I highly recommend this book.
I confess that I really have little interest in American politics, but I do have a growing interest in political theology and especially the political character of the church, an interest fostered most recently by William Cavanaugh’s fascinating Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ, about which I’ll say more later.
For now, let me just mention that Cavanaugh is quite critical of the view that the church’s role is “religious,” while the state takes care of “politics.” The church, therefore, isn’t competent to address political issues, but should leave them to the experts.
Interestingly enough, that very issue is what this Time article addresses. In the article, an official at the Vatican is quoted as saying:
People in Rome are becoming more and more aware that there’s a problem with John Kerry, and a potential scandal with his apparent profession of his Catholic faith and some of his stances, particularly abortion.
The Archbishop of Boston, where Kerry is from, apparently believes that the church does have authority to discipline members who use their office to promote things the church is opposed to, though it appears that, at this point, he may be leaving it to the politicians’ own consciences:
O’Malley has said that Catholic politicians who do not vote in line with church theology “shouldn’t dare come to Communion.”
And Kerry’s own response?
I don’t tell church officials what to do, and church officials shouldn’t tell American politicians what to do in the context of our public life.
The church deals with “religion,” apparently, and politicians deal with “public life,” which suggests that the church has nothing to say about the way people behave in their public lives.
But that answer, even though it may have the support of men such as Jacques Maritain, is itself an attack on the church and on her God-given authority.
The question is not whether the church ought to rule the country. The question is whether the church is itself a social body, a body with the power to excommunicate, a body authorized by God to declare who is a member and who is not according to the Word of God, who doesn’t turn a blind eye to sins one commits in connection with “public life”?
It will be interesting to see what happens, if anything, in the case of John Kerry.