Category Archive: Theology – Political

July 12, 2007

“Whose Freedom Are You?”

Category: Theology - Political,Theology - Trinity :: Link :: Print

This week, I listened to a sermon by Doug Jones entitled “Whose Freedom Are You?,” which was preached at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, back in June.  (You can get the notes of the sermon here.)

In the sermon, Jones meditates on the differences between a unitarian and a Trinitarian view of freedom.  (By “unitarian” with a small “u,” Jones is referring, not to the Unitarian church itself, but to any form of theism that posits a God who is only one person, not three; more broadly, he’s also including the views of Christians who confess the Trinity but whose thinking and acting is actually not consistent with that confession.)

On a unitarian view, Jones asks, what is freedom?  What is freedom for a God who is one person, not three?  His freedom is the lack of obstacles that stand in his way.  There’s no one else whose wishes and desires constrain him.  He is able to do whatever he wants to do.  He can live as he pleases without taking anyone else into account.  One doesn’t have to look too far to find such views of freedom in the Western world.

But on a Trinitarian view, freedom is quite different.  In fact, freedom and love are closely related.  The Father’s freedom is his desire and ability to do good to His Son and Spirit.  The Son’s freedom is His desire and ability to do good to the Father and Spirit.  The Spirit’s freedom is His desire and ability to do good to the Father and the Son.  And, because we’re caught up into that family by the Spirit as the children of the Father and, collectively, as the Bride of the Son, the freedom of the Triune God is the desire and the ability of each of the three Persons to do good to us.

On the unitarian view, I’m most truly free when I have no one else to stand in my way.  My wife becomes a limitation on my freedom.  My money isn’t mine to do with as I please; I’m obligated to use some of it for her and that restricts and limits my freedom.  My boss is a limitation on my freedom because he compells me to come to work when he wants and not whenever I wish.  The more other people are involved in my life, the less free I am to do what I want to do.

But on a Trinitarian view, the addition of more people to your life isn’t a restriction on your freedom but an opportunity for your freedom to flourish, because love is freedom and freedom is love.  I suppose, though I don’t recall Jones saying it exactly this way, that I am most truly free when I’m free from seeing my wife as an obstacle to (or a tool for) my own self-gratification and instead delight in serving her.

Along the way, there’s some thought-provoking application in this sermon to the vision of freedom presented in a speech by George Bush and to the vision being sold in Iraq, not least through the American involvement there.  Jones summons the church to think carefully about what we mean by “freedom” when we use the word in these political contexts.  Are we presenting a unitarian view or a Trinitarian view?  What are the results of the “freedom” we export?

Posted by John Barach @ 6:29 pm | Discuss (0)
June 25, 2005

Irony: Political Theology and Social Theory

Category: Theology - Political :: Link :: Print

After several failed attempts and false starts, followed by a long hiatus when I didn’t read anything heavy at all, I’ve started reading John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory again. My repeated readings of the opening chapters haven’t been wasted, however: each time I read this stuff I get some more out of it.

This time through the Introduction, I was struck (not for the first time) by the ironic shift which Milbank describes in both contemporary political theology and modern social theory.

Contemporary political theologians, in part because they don’t fully subscribe to the faith once delivered anymore but also because they want to be able to cooperate with non-Christians in society, have tended to affirm the “scientific” and “humanistic” approaches of sociology, letting sociology define the problems and suggest the remedies and leaving “religion” to the side.

Meanwhile, modern social theory, under the influence of Nietzsche, has come to believe that there is no neutrality and that every view presupposes a “metanarrative” which is religious or mythical in nature. Indeed, Nietzsche’s own suspicion, Milbank notes, “embodies an ontology of power and conflict which is simply another mythos, a kind of re-invented paganism” (p. 2).

And here’s the irony:

An extraordinary contrast therefore emerges between political theology on the one hand, and postmodern and post-Nietzschean social theory on the other. Theology accepts secularization and the autonomy of secular reason; social theory increasingly finds secularization paradoxical, and implies that the mythic-religious can never be left behind. Political theology is intellectually atheistic; post-Nietzschean social theory suggests the practical inescapability of worship (p. 3).

All of this, by the way, sounds at times as if Milbank is channelling Van Til.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:48 pm | Discuss (0)