Thursday, October 31, 2013

Giving and forgiving: the heart of Christianity

A book that's been rocking my world is Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace by the Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf.

Volf has spent his life grappling with giving and forgiveness. As a Croation Volf's been personally touched by the centuries-old ethnic conflicts and blood feuds that dominate the history of that part of the world. This book arises from that reflection and is a lot less intimidating for the average reader than the book he's most known for: Exclusion and Embrace.

Free of Charge is four things according to the author: an invitation to the Christian faith as seen through the lens of giving and forgiving, an interpretation of the apostle Paul, a reading of Martin Luther, and a spiritual exercise (for the author and those that would read). Volf is a Luther scholar and the German reformer's influence is all over this book. Since it's Reformation Day here's Volf's assessment of Luther.

Luther, I think, got the substance of the Christian faith roughly right -- or rather, the Luther who discovered the Christian faith afresh did, not the Luther concerned with preserving reformation by earthly powers. And Luther, in my judgment, also got the apostle Paul basically right. This view is not popular today, but popularity isn't an index of truthfulness (Kindle location 3801)

Volf quotes liberally from Luther's writings including the famous last point of The 1518 Heidelberg Disputation distinguishing God's love from human love: "The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it."

Beginning by describing the triune God who is perfect giver and forgiver Volf works out the implications for us by answering the questions how should we give and forgive, and how can we give and forgive? Profound is an overused word, but it applies here. Free of Charge is theological reflection of the highest order. I can't recommend it too highly. I'll end with a thought from the book.

If on the bottom line of our lives lies the principle that we should get what we deserve, whether good or ill, forgiveness will sit uncomfortably with us. To forgive is to give people more than their due, it's to release them from the debt they have incurred, and that's bound to mess up the books.
For a Christian, however, a bottom-line principle can never be that we should get what we deserve. Our very existence is God's gift. Our redemption from the snares of sin is God's gift. Both are undeserved, and neither could have been deserved. From start to finish, we are always given free of charge and given more than our due. It is therefore only fitting that we give others more than their due -- give them gifts that satisfy their needs or delight their senses and imagination, and give them the gift of forgiveness that frees them from guilt and the obligation to pay for their misdeeds. (Kindle location 3253) 

Monday, October 14, 2013

An average weekend

The Weekend Gun Report for October 11-13 makes for grim reading. But so did last weekend's report, and the one before that and the one before that. . .

Over 9,000 Americans have died from intentional, accidental or self-inflicted gunshots since the Newtown massacre. The cost of freedom. I guess.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hearing God in the mass media age

The following is a quote from Wheaton College professor Read Mercer Schuchardt, from a chapel talk "God Does Not Post to YouTube."

When the college chaplain invited me to speak on the theme of “Embracing God’s Will”, I immediately accepted — in fact, I embraced it as God’s will. And my next thought was, ‘Wow, that’s a really short message’ – but these are accelerated times we’re living in, so you are dismissed.
But before you go, I’d like to also talk about the weird habit you have of preemptively leaving the building before you’ve even entered it. I’m talking about mentally checking out just as you physically settle in. I’m talking about being pre-emptively distracted before you’ve focused in on what might be boring. About why it’s so much fun to talk to your pseudo-friends while texting your real friends to make plans for lunch, but not so much fun to just sit there and like, watch your real friends chew their food, which usually results in texting your pseudo-friends to make plans for dinner. I’m talking about being overmediated and consequently disembodied. I wish to speak to you about the incompatibility between the incarnate church and discarnate man.
In fact, since you’re already dismissed, I’d like you to actually be free to sit down, get comfortable and really pay attention, since we now have all this extra time. In other words, instead of being physically present but mentally absent, I want you to consider yourself physically absent so that you can be mentally present. In public speaking, this is called an attention-grabber. But here’s the problem: when everything competes for your attention, nothing actually has the power to grab it.
When everything grabs your attention, it grabs it in, by my rough estimate, 15-20 second bursts of attention minimum, and at maximum it lasts 3 minutes, roughly the length of a music video.
Cui bono? Who benefits from this shortened attention span? Your banker benefits, because you’re not paying attention closely enough to your electronic deposits and withdrawals. Your politicians benefit, because a people easily distracted are easily dissuaded from their own opinions, and perhaps their own convictions. Your media entertainment consumer complex benefits, because it’s so easy for advertisers to create desires you didn’t have to make you buy products you don’t need with money you haven’t earned to impress people you can’t stand. Your churches churn and turnover members and leaders like a laundromat, because with 23,000 Protestant denominations to choose from, the primary reason for switching churches is musical worship style, or in other words, how you feel about the 3-minute song you’ve just heard.
So really, everyone benefits except you. . .

If that grabbed your attention click here to read the whole thing.