Tag Archives: Musings

Evil, suffering, beauty, goodness.

It’s pretty common in film and television to see people who are functionally atheistic or non-religious to turn to God when it suits them. For instance, a character who under normal circumstances does not profess belief in God or practice any sort of religious observance, will begin to pray when there is an in-flight emergency or when they are up for a big promotion. I’ve been watching through the Seinfeld series again and noticed an unusual twist on this theme.

In the season 4 episode entitled “The Pilot, Part 1”, NBC finally confirms that they will begin shooting the pilot for the sitcom George and Jerry have been writing. George begins to panic about what might happen, so he visits his therapist. They have the following conversation:

George: What if the pilot gets picked up and it becomes a series?

Therapist: That’d be wonderful, George! You’d be rich and successful!

George: That’s exactly what I’m worried about. God would never let me be successful–he’ll kill me first! He’ll never let me be happy.

Therapist: I thought you didn’t believe in God?

George: I do for the bad things!

This is a clever observation about how we approach the subject of God. When bad things happen, the question of God inevitably arises. Under normal circumstances–when things are “good”–God rarely comes to mind.

I’m not suggesting that the question of a loving, all-powerful God allowing pain and suffering isn’t problematic or important to consider. I do think that the question is rather lop-sided. The question is always fundamentally, Can I believe in a God who allows these things to happen? or Can such a God be good? Beauty and goodness, on the other hand, rarely, if ever, come into the conversation. I’ve never heard anyone ask, Can I believe in a God who creates such profound beauty?

It seems to me that a balanced approach to the question must include not only evil and suffering, but also beauty, goodness, and from a Judeo-Christian perspective, redemption–that is, God’s response to evil and suffering.

I realize, of course, that God’s love and goodness is itself in question. What I’m talking about, however, is not God’s own goodness per se. Instead, just like the existence (for lack of a better term) of evil and suffering raise questions about God, so should the existence of goodness, beauty, and love.

I don’t know precisely how we bring these things into the discussion. I don’t like the idea of weighing evil and suffering against goodness and beauty, as if they were on a scale, and answering the question based on which “weighs” more (even if one could argue that, at least in the long run, goodness and beauty win out).

Still, it seems to me that if we are talking about a God who creates and exists–which I think we are when we ask about evil and suffering–then we must equally consider goodness and beauty. If we don’t, evil and suffering seem to become issue conveniently chosen simply to support a foregone position. The issue isn’t completely dealt with if beauty and goodness are not included.

Analog cameras and pixel peepers

An advertisement on the back of the November 1989 issue of National Geographic talks up Kodak’s new (at the time) EKTAR film. “You’re looking at a 2500% blowup with detail never before possible in a 35mm color print film,” it says. There’s close-up picture of a defeated football player. Inset is the original, uncropped photograph.

In fact, I found the image on Google:

What I find remarkable is that while Kodak boasts “detail never before possible”, the blow-up is actually quite soft. It is far from “tack sharp,” as they say. I read this and remembered several years back when I researched dSLR cameras, read lens reviews, followed the forums. What photogs seem to do these days is called “pixel peep”. They take a photograph, view it at maximum resolution and beyond, and then evaluate the lens or camera responsible based on how crisp the photograph is. I found this odd, as did others, since nobody ever looks that closely at a photograph. At normal viewing size, these photographs could be brilliant, but at the ultra-zoom level, they show flaws.

I remember, too, that the Pentax K10D, which I ended up buying, lost some marks from reviewers because its out-of-the-box settings didn’t produce a desirable quality of photrograph. The problem? The photographs were too soft. They weren’t “tack sharp”.

I’ve never been able to take a “tack-sharp” photograph. Partially because I don’t often use a tripod, partially because that particular Pentax model was design to produce film-like photographs. This is just fine by me. Surely there are other features in a photograph that are more important for judging its quality.

All this to say that that 1989 Kodak advertisement would not make the grade today. The never before possible “detail” in the blow-up would make the pixel-peepers scoff.

I wonder, have we lost something in our age of “tack-sharp” photographs and pixels in the millions? Do digital photographs have the same warmth and “personality” as analog photographs did? I suspect not. That’s not to say that I’m not thankful in many ways for digital cameras–mostly for their instant and forgiving output–or that there aren’t many brilliant and beautiful digital photographs taken. Yet I find that my dad’s old Minolta XG-1 (it’s older than I am) consistently yields better photographic results. And–sometimes–I crank up the ISO on my Pentax to add some of that “noise” and grain that is so hated these days. It may not show detail like cameras can these days, but I kind of like it.

Desultory reading

I finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude yesterday. It came highly recommended–more than 10 years ago, mind you–from a friend who also recommended a number of other books I have loved. Were it not for him, I would not have read Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany or Buechner’s Godric, for instance. It is a book chosen by Oprah for her book club (one wonders if she or any of her viewers actually read it). One friend told me–and this was confirmed in the publishing story in the back of the book–that it was said that this book, along with the book of Genesis, is required reading for the entire human race.

Solitude has been sitting on my shelf for at least 10 years. I made an attempt at reading it shortly after buying it, but didn’t make it much past 50 pages. It was too surreal and I kept losing track of all the names (there are many Aurelianos and Arcadios and Joses) and the plot. I picked it up again about a month ago and started reading from the beginning. This time the story captured me more than the first time, and I kept track of the names using the family tree printed in the front pages of the book.

Midway through I began to realize that the story wasn’t going anywhere. At least, not in any sort of linear sense. Nobody claimed that it would, but still, it really was just events in the lives of one family. I began to hope that there would be a payoff or resolution at the end, as a reward for the work of reading through the middle hump. There was a resolution and a payoff of sorts, but it was underwhelming. I certainly don’t see how it should be required reading.

What am I missing with some of these greats of Western literature? What do I need to “get” in order to understand the acclaim?

Here’s what I need to do: I need to stop reading books out of obligation. Obligation to the canon or to acclaim. If we’re talking about pleasure reading, obligation is opposite of the direction I want to go in.

A couple of weeks ago, Scot McKnight published a post about reading habits. He said this:

I don’t know about you, but I can create a stack of books to read and then a new book arrives in the mailbox and I decide to read the new book. On the day before we left for Israel Alan Jacobs’ new book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, arrived, and I said to myself, “That’s a book to read on the flight.” And I did. Which decision illustrates the whole point of Jacobs’ new book: read at whim.

Why “whim”? Lower case “whim” in Jacobs’ dictionary means “thoughtless, directionless” but upper case Whim means this: “Read what gives you delight — at least most of the time — and do so without shame” (23). One of my favorite writers, who often writes about reading, calls this “desultory” reading — a kind of wandering and meandering from one book to another. More or less, that’s how I have been reading for years. What strikes me today as a “must-read” becomes sometimes a “read later” and sometimes to a “I’m not even interested now.” Whim is a good word for it, and it’s a good habit to establish.

Desultory reading is what I have done in the past, and I have read some wonderful books as a result. I once bought a book based solely on its cover art and the blurb on the back (but mostly the cover art). I liked that book enough to buy another by the same author, which became one of my favourites. Without reading at whim, without the serendipitous choice, I may never have read The Shipping News or Dracula.

Desultory reading choices are made by feeling. If I own the book, the choice is usually made at those times when I spend a few moments browsing my bookshelves and reading the first couple of paragraphs of the book. I’m not sure how it works in bookstores. I just know it’s feeling–guts. It’s serendipitous.

I sometimes muse about what I will read next. For a time, I thought the next work of fiction I would read is Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. But that was again an obligation–it is acclaimed, it comes highly recommended by friends. But I didn’t feel the choice.

I didn’t know it was the wrong choice until a week or so ago, when I was again perusing my books. I opened The Kite Runner and read the short first chapter. I was hooked. The opening words spoke nostalgia and regret, for which I am a sucker.

I sat on a park bench near a willow tree. I thought about something Rahim Khan said just before he hung up, almost as an afterthought. There is a way to be good again. I looked up at those twin kites. I thought about Hassan. Thought about Baba. Ali. Kabul. I thought of the life I had lived until the winter of 1975 came along and changed everything. And made me what I am today.

Yes, this book was recommended to me. But I’m going to read it because it feels right. I might be disappointed. I might think it’s the best thing I’ve read in a while.

The key is serendipity.

The Pink Panther

IT’S A FACT: “The Pink Panther Theme,” by Henri Mancini, is probably my favourite song of all time. I don’t know why this is, exactly, but it has been my favourite since childhood. It evokes feeling of nostalgia, a mysterious sense of Europe and my childhood, a sense of intrigue and adventure and fun. None of these things do justice to what I feel whenever I hear the song. I can’t quite find the words.

This goes back to early childhood–perhaps even back to when we still lived in the Netherlands. Every so often one of the original Pink Panther films would be played on TV and a number of times I caught it at just the right time to catch the opening sequence, which included the theme song and a short animated feature with the pink panther and the inspector chasing him down.

These short cartoons delighted me. It was always a let-down when the actual, live-action film began. At the time, I didn’t find Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau very funny at all, and there was no pink panther, other than a mysterious jewel!

Since that time “The Pink Panther Theme” has filled me with warm, happy feelings.

I’m having some issues finding one I can embed, so here’s a link to a live version (with Mancini on piano) on YouTube.

Post of the Year

Who am I to say what my post of the year is?  I suppose that should be decided by my readers.

We’ve arrived in Prince Albert and I’m fully into the early stages of the flu: runny nose, aching body, chills, headache. What a way to start the Christmas break!  I suspect it’s as a result of my trying to dig out the van when we hit the ditch the other day. I didn’t have proper snow pants on and spent quite a bit of time out there. Plus, my adrenaline probably ran out when I handed in my last assignment of the semester on Monday.

But I digress. I confess I have neither the will nor the strength scan through all of my 2010 post. No matter–I’m convinced this is the best one. In fact, it may well be the only post I wrote this year that I think is worth reading.

Written on February 19, 2010, it’s a reflection on good, evil, and God, prompted by a Bruce Cockburn song I was listening to at the time. This isn’t a post putting forward tentative theological ideas, as I usually do. These words came from my heart and my guts, which is why, I think, they continue to resonate with me.

* * *

how faint the whisper we hear of him! (Job 26:14, TNIV)

* * *

Here
is bigger than you can imagine
Now
is forever (Bruce Cockburn)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about pain and suffering and genocide and natural disasters and…God.  Without diminishing the pain and horror, and without denying the legitimacy of our incredulity, our anger at God for allowing these things to happen, I do have the strong sense that we humans are awfully short-sighted in our assessment of what God is or is not doing in the world. What truths can we derive from our suffering when it is but a blip of an event in the continuum of history?  What do we, with our short lives, know about how these things fit in the great scheme of things?

And what of all the beauty and goodness we see in the world?  Should God get any credit for those things?  Should the bad things outweigh the good?

Perhaps it is easy for me to say this sitting comfortably in my Poäng chair at home, surrounded by books, family, love, health and…a roof and walls, but there runs inside me a deep vein of hope.  There is good in the world and it will prevail. I believe this deeply.

Hope does not do away with the pain and suffering, and neither does it justify or excuse it.  Hope does not mean we cannot or do not weep, grieve, shout at God in anger.  What hope does is see, if faintly and uncertainly, beyond pain and suffering to the time when, in Julian of Norwich’s wonderful words, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”.

Tonight I had Bruce Cockburn’s album You’ve Never Seen Everything playing in the background as I worked.  The title track is quite a powerful song.  On first listen it comes across as a heavily political song, which is not unusual for Cockburn.  It is a dark song, sparse instrumentation, with lyrics spoken in a low, tired, almost pained voice.

The listener is presented with a series of vignettes showing the dark underbelly of the world: viruses, suicide, murder, drug trade, sexual harassment, consumerism, poisoning of women and children, rage, greed, and so on.  After a couple of these vignettes, the words, “You’ve never seen everything”.  For example:

And a car crashes and burns on an offramp from the Gardiner
Two dogs in the back seat die, and in the front
a man and his mother
Forensics reveals the lady has pitchfork wounds in her chest –
Pitchfork!
And that the same or a similar instrument has been screwed to the dash
to make sure the driver goes too

You’ve never seen everything

The listener is shaken out of his or her stupor: there is so much darkness beyond that comfortable little world you’ve created for yourself, he seems to be saying. You think you get it?  You think you understand the world–like watching the nightly news gives you any sense of what’s going on?

For the longest time I would simply skip over the song.  It was too dark, too discomforting.  And the only reason I did choose to listen to it was to get to the chorus, which is a rich, beautiful melody dropped in the middle of those dark vignettes:

Bad pressure coming down
Tears – what we really traffic in
ride the ribbon of shadow
Never feel the light falling all around

Until tonight I wasn’t sure what to do with that chorus, other than enjoy it as a brief reprieve from the dark images being spoken around it.  The song is the shadow, it seemed to me, and the chorus but a thin ribbon of half-light running through it.  But suddenly, tonight, perhaps in confirmation of the things I’ve been thinking about hope, I realized what the song is actually saying.  It ends with the chorus and repeated mantra:

Bad pressure coming down
Tears – what we really traffic in
ride the ribbon of shadow
Never feel the light falling all around
Never feel the light falling all around

You’ve never seen everything

It’s not the darkness we haven’t seen around us, it’s the light!  We think we’ve seen it all when we see the pain and sorrow of the world, but we haven’t seen everything: we haven’t seen the light falling all around, filling all the infinite space in which the ribbon of shadow moves.  We choose to ride the ribbon of darkness when we could just as well ride the light if we are willing to see it.

In fact, the album ends quite abruptly a few songs later on the word “hope”.

* * *
The original post is here if you want to follow the discussion that went with it (comments there are closed, but they are open here).

School and work-related epiphany

Hi blog and readers. I continue to neglect you. We’ve actually had little to no internet availability at home since last Friday. But that has been good. I’m more productive when I’m not checking Facebook for 20 minutes every half hour or so.

The end is in sight. I preach on Hebrews 13 in class tomorrow and, as usual, am dissatisfied with what I have prepared so far and will continue to feel this way, no matter how many times I revise. After that I have to write an analysis of Ruth 4:13-17, with focus on Hebrew narrative sequence, theology, and the editor’s textual notes in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (the critical Hebrew text on which modern translations are based), masora parva (marginal textual notes added by the Masoretes in the Middle Ages). The paper is kind of like a commentary on the text, but it’s not supposed to look like a commentary. I have never written a paper like this and have no clue how to put something like this together in prose format. Then I have a short interaction with an article to write. And then on the weekend I will write the final paper for my Old Testament Text and Interpretation class.

That may sound like a lot, but I can see the end and it seems manageable.

My epiphany:

The courses offered at the seminary have varying degrees of difficulty. Some assignments require an enormous amount of work to complete and others can be completed quickly and with ease. Since starting seminary I have felt two things about the “easier” courses.  First,I have felt like the “easier” courses were short-changing me on my education. While I do think that some of the courses could use improvement or a slightly altered focus, I have come to realize that it is not an unrealistic expectation for a professor to have that I will supplement my course readings and assignments with additional material. No professor has vocalized such an expectation, so it may not actually exist. What is nevertheless important for me to recognize is that to some degree I make the course experience as valuable as I make it. If I choose to simply dash off the “easy” assignments without much thought, because I know I’ll get a good grade anyway, the loss of learning is my own fault, not, for the most part, the professor’s. Seminary is, in some senses, only a starting place, a foundation for life-long theological and pastoral reflection.

That actually isn’t my epiphany, but a lead up  to it. My epiphany, which came to me this afternoon, is this:

The second thing I have felt about the “easy” seminary courses is guilt over the relatively little time I spend on completing assignments. I don’t know if this is what people mean when they refer to the “Protestant work ethic,” but somehow it is ingrained in my head that only assignments into which I have poured blood, sweat, and tears are valuable and worthwhile doing.

If I get a good grade on a difficult assignment, all is well and good. However, when I get a good grade on an assignment which was easy to complete, I feel some degree of guilt, because it feels like the easy papers don’t deserve good grades.

It occurred to me today, however, that this isn’t simply a question of difficult papers being more deserving. What that perspective neglects to factor in is that my brain may well function better in different assignment contexts. If I recognize that some assignments are easier simply because my brain is better able to process them, then suddenly a paper can both be easy and quick to write and of a quality deserving a good grade.

This may not seem like something worth the term “epiphany”, but it makes a huge difference to the perspective I have of my own work and relieves a whole lot of unnecessary guilt.

The Lion and the lectionary

Chapel on Friday mornings is an abbreviated version of the morning office–we pray, read scripture, recite the Apostle’s Creed and are silent together.  It’s a good time.

In the last couple of weeks, the scripture readings in particular have been quite jarring, but not in the way you might expect. A couple of weeks ago I read from Acts 19:21-41. The bulk of the text is about a riot at Ephesus and the material is largely political in nature.  I kept checking the readings for the day to make sure I wasn’t reading the wrong passage. What a bizarre passage to include as part of the lectionary readings, I thought to myself. What does this tell us about anything? I saw my homiletics professor afterwards and asked him how someone would preach a sermon on that passage.  What’s the big idea in that text?

The lesson, I suppose, is that even if the Bible is inspired and the word of God, it cannot be picked apart willy-nilly. There are some parts of scripture that are unpreachable outside of a wider context.  And even if such a passage functions within a wider context, the passage itself may not have anything to present to use other than information driving the story.

Today in chapel I read from Revelation 9:11-21. It’s a dark passage about plagues and the death of one-third of the earth’s inhabitants. Symbolism and metaphor or not, it was a difficult passage to read and then end with “The word of the Lord” to which the rest of the people replying, “Thanks be to God.”

This is the beauty of the lectionary: it takes us places in scripture we would otherwise not go. To run with C.S. Lewis’ imagery a bit, the lectionary teaches us that the Lion’s word is no tamer than the Lion himself.  Don’t think we know it all, that we have it in our grasp.  It can slip away from us easily, mystify us, frustrate us–maybe even offend us.

And perhaps that’s as it should be.

The Lord helps those…

I’ve dived (dove? doven?) right into my reading for this semester.  The first book I started is Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (a mouthful with the subtitle).  It’s written from a sociological perspective and one of the chapters deals with the fact that, among other things, Christianity was able to mobilize a human response to epidemics in a way that pagan religion was not able to.

What was new and different about Christianity was the “notion that more than self-interested exchange relations were possible between humans and the supernatural” and that “because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please  God unless they love one another” (86).  Emperor Julian–not a fan of Christianity–noted the benevolence of Christians and wanted pagans to at least match this activity, “but for all that he urged pagan priests to match these Christian practices, there was little or no response because there were no doctrinal bases or traditional practices for them to build upon.  It was not that Romans knew nothing of charity, but that it was not based on service to the gods” (88). The pagans mostly fled the cities to save themselves from epidemics; Christians stayed in the cities and cared not only for their own but also for those sick pagans who had been left behind.

There were, in Stark’s view, a number of implications to this Christian charity which contributed to the rapid rise of the faith, but that’s another matter (though an interesting one).  However, this particular passage struck me:

I suggest reading the following passage from Matthew (25:35-40) as if for the very first time, in order to gain insight into the power of this new morality when it was new, not centuries later in more cynical and worldly times:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

When the New Testament was new, these were the norms of the Christian communities. Tertullian [one of the church “fathers”] claimed: “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!'” (87)

This immediately put in mind of the relatively recent brouhaha over universal medicare in the U.S. Run from your church if they talk about social gospel!, says Glenn Beck (inexplicably the new spokesperson for what appears to be much of the Christian right).  What is the social gospel?  As far as I can tell, these words of Jesus in Matthew are the essence of the social gospel. And it comes from the mouth of Jesus!

How it is that the “Christian right” came to oppose the notion of universal healthcare is beyond me.  It seems to me that they ought to be the ones who most strongly support it.  I’m not suggesting that state sponsored medicare is a biblical mandate.  What is a biblical mandate is care for those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned and what have you.  The state steps in because Christians are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. Somebody needs to heed Jesus’ words.

It would be one thing if the Christian right opposed universal healthcare on the grounds that they wanted to provide it instead of the Joe and Jane Taxpayer, but from what I can gather those within the church who opposed universal healthcare are not afraid of the government shuffling into their territory.  At least, not the territory of taking care of orphans and widows in their distress.  But the territory of tax dollars and the American dream?  Yes.  After all, God helps those who help themselves, it says somewhere in Hezekiah.

It scares me to think that many Christians seems to be drifting away from this “notion that more than self-interested exchange relations were possible between humans and the supernatural”.

Melancholic Maritime Fiction

I’m reading Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief again. Last summer I read his collected short stories, some of them while sitting in an Adirondack  chair on the west coast of Vancouver Island overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The weather wasn’t great those couple of days on the ocean, but it was perfect for the melancholic nostalgia of MacLeod’s short stories set on Cape Breton Island (even though it’s on Canada’s opposite coast).  Memory is connected with action and activity, as well as the senses, and MacLeod’s fiction will always be connected with our family vacation on a beach just south of Tofino.

Today is wet and windy, kind of like it was on the island last summer–a perfect day for reading, especially MacLeod.  My daily routine since finishing the school year has been to take an afternoon nap on the living room couch, which sits underneath a window.  On cool days like today, I will open the window so that the cool air flows in and down over my face as a read and then lay the book open on my chest and drift into sleep.  There are few things as enjoyable as a nap in a fresh breeze. And so I took one.

I wish there was a website somewhere that would give me suggestions for books similar to MacLeod’s.  I would enter “Island” or perhaps “The Shipping News” (not by MacLeod, but in the same category) into a search field and up would pop a number of appropriate suggestions.  Or maybe they’d have a Melancholic Maritime Fiction category.  I can’t enough of this stuff.

And not just a site that generates suggestions based on what other users have read.  If they used my fiction reading habits to recommend books to someone else who is searching for something to read akin to, say, Kurt Vonnegut’s The Slaughterhouse-Five, would turn up not only Catch-22, which is in the same vein, but also The Lord of the Rings, Right Ho, Jeeves, and, perhaps Who Has Seen the Wind, none of which would be helpful.  No–there would have to be a direct link in feel not just an algorithm or some such based on other people’s reading habits.

It would probably be a magical website.

Alas, I suspect one lands on these books by sheer accident.  There is no way of predicting which book will satiate that melancholic maritime fiction desire. As it is, I think I originally bought No Great Mischief at Costco some 10 years ago based mostly on its cover photograph in combination with the blurb on the back.  Had the cover been designed differently, I may never have read the book.  So much for the old saying.

Why ought we believe?

Today this question came to mind: “Why do we believe in Christ?”*

My childhood answer would have been, “So that I can go to heaven.”  I think that continues to be the answer of many mature Christians as well.  Maybe the answer would be more nuanced–something like, “Because he died for me/my sins.”  Or perhaps someone might answer, “Because I love him.”  But with a follow-up question–“Why do you love him?”–things are likely to end up in the same place: “Because he died for me/my sins.” However it is phrased, often it ultimately boils down to avoiding consequences.

I’m starting to think that a better or possibly more accurate answer ought to be, “Because he is Lord.”  It seems to me that the difference between the two answers is subtle but important.  To say, “Because he died for me,” is in a way a self-interested answer, because my primary motivation is the consequence (salvation or damnation), not the person.  Conversely, the primary motivation for believing “Because he is Lord,” is the person of Jesus.  This seems to be the New Testament answer as well.

You might say that “Because he died for me/my sins” is an egocentric answer, whereas “Because he is Lord” is a Christocentric answer. The difference between “Because he died for me/my sins” and “Because he is Lord” is the difference between what might be (in my own interest) and what is (regardless of my own interests).

This is why it is important that in Ethics Dietrich Bonhoeffer argues that Jesus is saviour whether people believe it or not. Jesus as Saviour and Lord is a fact not contingent on my believing it or your believing it.  This, according to Bonhoeffer, is ultimate reality. He is Lord–I can choose to believe it or I can choose to ignore or deny it, but that’s the way it is regardless of my choice.

So for Bonhoeffer spreading the Gospel or sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is not about presenting people with what might be and then having them actualize this potential through a choice of belief or non-belief.  Instead, evangelism (or proclamation, which is apparently the more Bonhoefferian term for it) is simply about pointing people to the way things are.

This is also, I think, why theologians such as Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance (to name the three I’ve spent some time with this year), who all have a highly Christocentric theology, all at least tend towards supporting some form of universal salvation (through Christ).  Because for these theologians it is ultimately about who Jesus is rather than what might become of me.  Of course, what becomes of me comes into the picture somewhere along the line, but that is still ultimately an outworking of who Christ is. No matter how you look at it, Christ is the centre.

I feel like I could transition into some of my reflections on this past year which I presented in church a couple of weeks ago as a part of our “The Spirit Speaks in Community” series. I reflected on the impact of “faith of Christ” vs. “faith inChrist” in Galatians 2 on my own thinking on the subject.  However, a) people tend not to read overly long posts, and b) I need to crunch those thoughts down into a post-sized form. So this post is, in a way, to be continued…

_______________________

*I suppose another way to frame the topic is to ask, “What is the essence of the Gospel?” but this is the way it came to mind today.