Friday, June 02, 2006

Kingdom Ethics Stassen Gushee 4

I must confess that I haven’t re-read the whole book, but I think with what I’ve read during the intensive, and what I’ve read or read again since the intensive I’ve made a pretty earnest effort to interact with this huge text in it’ entirety.

I felt that the authors took what I would call pretty conservative positions on most issues. They renounced the violence of war, the death penalty, abortions and euthanasia. They renounced cloning, divorce, sexual naughtiness. They seemed to want to help find some middle ground in regards to the women in church leadership issue.

Besides the positions that they advocated for, I appreciate how they brought the life and teachings of Jesus into the discussions. It seems that “just peacemaking” can apply to the many conflicts that arise in living in this very broken world, and in our very broken church communities.

In the chapter about divorce I appreciated their push for reconciliation, but I wonder about how the church ought to respond to those who already have had the tragic misfortune of being divorced. I know of many broken couples, devout Christians, some of them former leaders in their communities, pastors even, and there are so many single parents now. I know of one fellow who was in a marriage, and I believe that he was pretty much powerless to save the marriage. His wife left him and their kids. Unfortunately among some evangelical circles, being divorced no matter what the circumstances, leaves a person stigmatized, somewhat disqualified to re-engage in community with all of his talents, even after many years. I just think that this is wrong. Sure divorce is tragic, but I don’t believe the event always leaves the persons character marred. For my friend I believe that his character was/is totally intact.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Kingdom Ethics Stassen Gushee 3

Well, the pace has pickup a bit and I’m well into section III. Having finished the war chapter, which is chapter 7, I’m now reading the chapter on orienting the youth with Christian social ethics.

Section II seemed like a critical section in that authors continued to lay the groundwork for the rest of book. In chapter 7, the authors offer reflections about authoritative sources for discerning ethics, the scriptures being the primary or central source as modeled by Jesus. I appreciated that other sources can also be considered, like traditions of our communities, good reasoning, experience. Chapter 8 was helpful for understanding the varying levels of assumptions that define our values, or the moral judgments we make as they relate to the things we do. The four different levels work almost like a continuum on which we can place our values from the highly situational to the cosmic absolutes. In chapter 8, the authors brought some things together from previous chapters as they relate to the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

I appreciate the importance that the authors place on principles in the application of rules in our day to day activities (p103-105). Rules are somewhat situational in that they address similar situations and are prescriptive, defining appropriate actions that would be accepted as moral norms for those situations. Principles are the underlying assumptions that help with understanding the deeper meaning of the rules. Principles do not in of themselves prescribe correct actions, but they could help people apply the right rules for the right situations. Principles help in discerning situations when there are unusual circumstances or exceptions to the rules.

What I like about the different levels is that they serve as a tool for helping to place values on a continuum. The authors demonstrate that understanding the levels or moral norms can help us to understand where others are coming from when we negotiate our ways through conflicts.

Working with college students this isn’t always very easy. They come from various backgrounds and see issues form very different perspectives. The very churched ones are particularly challenging, because they often tend to be very dogmatic. Hopefully the four levels will help me to be more hospitable, empathetic and discerning when teaching moments present themselves.

Kingdom Ethics Stassen Gushee 2

The reading is going very slowly. I’ve only managed to finish the first section of the book. This first section “The Reign of God and Christian Character” because of it’ emphasis on the Kingdom seemed really important to glean more carefully than when I skimmed it during the intensive.

There seemed to be much here for post modern thinkers. The authors offered critique throughout the section, of paradigms prevalent in modernity, i.e. the problematic dualism of sacred and secular space, the vital role of community (and the pitfalls of individualism) in social ethics.

Towards the end of the section, starting at about page 72, the authors offer their thoughts regarding various reactions to virtue ethics. Fritz Stern makes a strong case against the problem of Inward Emigration. It seems that some thinkers in Europe had a problem with multicultural situations prevalent in what I’m guessing were more urban settings. These thinkers reacted to this by advocating cultural, and probably ethnic, homogeneity. In the process their paradigms served the purposes of Nazism, which resulted in World War II and the Holocaust.

This made me think about the discussion of Multicultural vs. Ethnically focused ministry. I’ve been active in Asian American ministry for some time. To the extent that our ministry community has different Asian ethnic groups represented, we are multiethnic. Still, we are about reaching a somewhat specific demographic in the American landscape, namely Asian Americans, so to that extent we are ethnically focused. I’m not sure if the problems of Inward Emigration are necessarily a critique of Asian American ministries, but I do have one thought in regards to the problem of racism and ethnic focused ministries. Racism is one reason why we exist. Not so much because we are racist, though certainly we are sometimes, but in the not so ancient history, in fact very recent history, the majority culture has been very hostile to Asian Americans and other minorities, namely those who are or appear to be from the Middle East. I believe that there is a critique to be offered to the wholesale buy in to Multiculturalism, of which racism is only part of the problem. For now, I think it’s a “both/and” thing.

Some thinkers respond to virtue ethics as being too inward focused, buttressing the dysfunctions of an already narcissistic context. Modernity perhaps has made too much about being vs. doing. As a student of Bobby Clinton’s Leadership Emergence Theory, I was challenged to think about leadership emergence concepts that might be perceived as being too inwardly focused, too individualistic. I’m going to explore this some more, I think for my final paper, but I’m led to think that the notion of “ministry flowing out of being” affirms the importance of Intimacy with the Father without compromising missional engagement. Again this may be one of those “both/and” things. Who we are and what we do, as individuals and as community, are vital for the Kingdom.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Kingdom Ethics Stassen 1

I’ve only re-read the first chapter. The authors offer definitions and argument regarding the meaning of the “Kingdom of God,” and the literary sources that might give us a clue as to what “Kingdom of God” meant to those who heard Jesus’ proclamations. The authors explain that understanding what “Kingdom” means is essential in understanding the ethics of Jesus.

In discussions with the staff leadership in my ministry context, where we have been wrestling with the strategic direction of our ministry, I’ve cast into the discussion the idea of the Kingdom of God, receiving very mixed, even somewhat indifferent responses. If Jesus’ proclamation is so foundational to understanding Jesus’ ethics, and therefore the characteristics of God’s mission, or what our participation in God’s missional activity looks like, than I’m convinced that something has to happen in our staff community so that we get this Kingdom thing right. So for me, right now, reading more of what authors are saying about the Kingdom is helpful. I’ve got to get it right myself.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Politics of Jesus Yoder 4 and 5

In chapter nine Yoder expounds on the concept of “subordination.” He reflects on a few parallel passages offered by Paul and Peter used as ethical instruction referred to as the “Haustafeln,” which according to the footnote is German for “house tables,” (p.162) or rules that outline relational expectations in the household, family. It seems that some church communities have used these passages to permit oppressive paradigms to prevail, especially in patriarchal societies. I appreciate that the author goes to some length to point out that Paul would not have given the instructions to the oppressed to be subordinate unless there was a message, most likely from Paul himself, that acknowledged the dignity, and eschatological equal status of the oppressed in the world. It is interesting that the author does not buy into the egalitarianism of modernity, and it seems consistent with the rest of the book that the author sees the social ethics of Jesus as one that renounces violent self-assertion.

In chapter ten, the author continues with this idea of subordination as it relates to how Christians respond to governments. He offers his thoughts on Romans twelve and thirteen. Chapter thirteen can be used to justify Christian participation or support in government sponsored violence, or use of force, which is contradicts Jesus’ social ethic of non violence. The author offers that Paul and Jesus are actually both asserting that Christian community has a responsibility to object to government powers, but to not resort to violence, and to trust in God’s “ordering” activity in the world.

The last two chapters I need to read again. They were difficult to glean from for me.

Yoder seems to echo Wright and Lohfink. Yoder certainly supports Lohfink’s reflections; that Jesus’ teachings are meant to be understood and lived out in a communal context. Yoder’s social ethics certainly lines up with Wright’s historical Jesus. Wright’s Jesus challenged the Jewish leaders to not hope for a revolutionary Messiah that will overthrow the pagans. Yoder’s concept of subordination seems to support that.

When I think of subordination, I can appreciate the social ethic of communal nonviolence, but still this is very challenging for me. Maybe I’m just too freaking hostile, and predisposed to anger and argument. I see the issue of women in leadership in the church, for example, as an issue of social justice, that the church of all places needs to model paradigms that are not oppressive to a gender. I think there’s room in the rhetoric of Yoder for such position taking, as long as I don’t go into situations with guns a blazing, or rather my big fat mouth. I need to be more hospitable, but I think Yoder’s challenge is more radical than hospitality.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Politics of Jesus Yoder 3 continued

Having just finished reading chapter eight, “Christ and Power,” it seems that the author takes seriously the issue of whether the “powers” are actual supernatural beings or a metaphorical construct in our human minds (p 160). I’m okay with his closing sentence that Christ’s confrontation with the powers is not a pietistic challenge to the individual, but rather indicative of a greater reality which he characterizes as a “split in the cosmos.” I’d just rather the author say angels and demons, but whatever.

To focus on how the author defines powers as beings or not, however, might be missing the point of the chapter. Yoder does make bold assertions about the role/responsibility of the Christian community to be a present voice in society, sometimes having to take strong positions, protesting the activities of the “Powers,” social structures, whatever, that/who are rebellious to the Creator.

Can the Asian American church be such a presence? Sure. It’s difficult to see how this can happen. Within the church I’ve talked to Asians who stand all over the continuum of positions regarding America’s presence in Iraq, which seems to be the case in Christian churches of all kinds. One extreme and somewhat disturbing assertion was made by an Asian American Baptist, that military force against Sadam Hussein is a “no brainer.” Even if I were for American military presence in Iraq, not that I’m totally against it, I’d hardly characterize it as being such a simple issue that it would not require any forethought. Taking ethical positions as a community is tricky, and there are diverse paradigms to bring together. Without making less of our responsibility, it seems that for the church, it really may be something only the Holy Spirit can bring about.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Politics of Jesus Yoder 2, 3

I’ve read up to about page 153. I find much of Yoder a bit challenging to follow, but if I’m getting things right, the praxis Jesus and the teachings of Paul do have much to offer to us today regarding social ethics.

One thing that was challenging is this idea of “imitation” on page 95, that the New Testament doesn’t support the concept of imitation. I tend to disagree with this. I think Paul is pretty explicit about challenging people to follow his example (Phil. 4:9), and he challenges Timothy to set an example for others to follow (I Tim. 4:12). In John’s gospel 13:15 Jesus sets an example for the disciples to follow. If the author is asserting that there is a context to take into consideration, that “imitation” has to do with a very literal, very direct following of what was done in the scriptures, than fine. Most anyone would concede that Jesus’ praxis if it is to be followed would have to be translated for our context.

So applying that today, people get pretty uptight about immersion baptism for example, which I think is a fine ritual steeped in deep scriptural and historical meanings and associations, but is the form sacred? No I don’t think we have to “imitate” the form. I think there’s room for re-imagining new forms, new rites of passage that might have equal meaning.

The chapter on Christ and Power, chapter eight, is also difficult to follow. It seems that the author goes to considerable length to not say demons or devils when he talks about Powers. Except for some quotes and some cryptic allusions, one might think that the author defines the Powers as simply corrupt cultural structures. I’m not sure. I still have to finish the chapter.

So if Yoder is an influential thinker for post moderns, am I to think that the emerging church doesn’t believe in angels and demons, in the literal sense of those words? Or is Yoder trying to avoid committing academic suicide?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Politics of Jesus Yoder 1

I haven’t gotten very far in Yoder’s Book. I’m in the middle of the second chapter. So far I only have intimations of his thesis. Actually he’s been pretty explicit. Yoder is working to connect the biblical Jesus, mostly from Luke’s gospel, the “events…outlines” (p.13) in his life and ministry, with social ethics. He’s hinted at similar themes that Wright goes to town with; specifically that “sonship” in relation to the Father is not to be understood as a deifying title (p.24-25). Also Yoder is likely going to pursue similar arguments that Jesus’ politics and ethics were that of nonviolence towards the Romans.

Jesus NT Wright 4

Is this the never ending book or what? Gads I’m finally done reading, and re-reading some parts of, this book.

Well, I’m a bit overwhelmed right now, but here’s something that stuck out in my mind, as it did I think for others during our weeks together. The whole thing about Jesus’ self awareness of his vocation, vs. his divine identity as the second person in the trinity is a lot for this Asian American evangelical to process, but I think I like it. I had to look up the word docetism. It’s some kind of heresy that asserts that Jesus’ sufferings were only “apparent and not real.” This made sense to me. I could see how if in our ideas of Jesus’ incarnation, there was still an ability to be totally divine with all his cosmic powers intact, somehow his humanity would be difficult to accept. Therefore one might have to buy into a kind of docetism, that Jesus being totally divine didn’t really suffer on the cross, even if he was actually crucified, that it didn’t really hurt him because he’s God.

For Jesus to be truly God incarnate, for him to have been able to fulfill his vocation as messiah, to be the symbol, the light of the world, the embodiment of all that he proclaimed, to be Israel, he had to suffer as a human who knew something of his calling, but really took something of a cosmic risk or gamble in following through with his Father’s work. Yea, that’s still kind of freaky.