Tag Archives: Placher

The unchanging God who changes.

“Several centuries before Jesus’ birth, the Greek philosopher Aristotle had insisted that God was unchanging and utterly indifferent to the affairs of the world. If God cared about the world, he argued, then God would be subject to shifts of mood from every passing change in the world’s affairs. Having passions would destroy God’s perfection, for God would bend to the world’s every joy and pain.

Many Christians have accepted Aristotle’s conclusions, but I find myself agreeing with others, like fourth-century poet and theologian Gregory of Nyssa, who disagreed with Aristotle. Gregory denied that getting involved with the world would be a weakness in God. “God’s transcendent power,” he wrote, “is not so much displayed in the vastness of the heavens or the luster of the stars or the orderly arrangement of the universe or his perpetual oversight of it, as in his condescension to our weak nature.” God is, oddly, most powerful in stooping to our weakness.

Loving in this way, after all, is not a form of weakness but a manifestation of strength. Really loving involves taking risks–the risk of rejection, the risk of having to give of yourself to help the one you love–and real love takes those risks recklessly….

What then about Aristotle’s worry? Is such a God changing, altered by the changing circumstances of the objects of divine love, and therefore imperfect, even unreliable? It depends, from a Christian standpoint, what you mean by “not changing.” Love, after all, manifests its utter consistency precisely by changing. If I love you, and I do not change (grow sad, seek to help) when you fall ill or get into trouble, then my love has changed. True love stays the same by adapting to the changing situation of the loved one. We can be constant in love only by altering our moods and responses according to the circumstances of the object of our love. In that sense the loving God stays ever the same.”

(William Placher, Jesus the Savior: The Meaning of Jesus Christ for Christian Faith, 20-21)

Bonhoeffer. Bart. (von) Balthasar. (B)universalism.

I read this in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics the other day:

There is no part of the world, no matter how lost, no matter how godless, that has not been accepted by God in Jesus Christ and reconciled to God. (67)

Hints of universalism, perhaps?  No.  Bonhoeffer makes a clear statement about the need for salvation and his active participation in the plot to kill Hitler is not a natural outcome, I don’t think, of a universalist theology (or is it?).  But interesting nonetheless.

This was discussed in class.  What Bonhoeffer is getting at is that Christ is already in the world.  To borrow directly from my professor, the church’s mission isn’t to bring the Light to the world, as it if somehow possessed the Light; the Light is already in the world, and the church responds to it worship (and thereby also points to it).

Bonhoeffer goes on:

…in the body of Christ all humanity is accepted, included, and borne, and…the church-community of believers is to make this known to the world by word and life.  This means not being separated from the world, but calling the world into the community…of the body of Christ to which the world in truth already belongs. (67)

That still has the ring of universalism about it.  Or at least near-universalism.  So close, in fact, you wonder why it isn’t.

But I digress.

I read tonight in William C. Placher’s Narratives of a Vulnerable God the following in a discussion about interfaith dialogue, pluralism and expressing disagreement with other faiths:

Two of the theologians in our century most unbending about the errors of other faiths, Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar, also entertained at least a strong hope for universal salvation.  Barth believed that we could at least hope that all could be saved, since we cannot imagine that anyone could hold out against the reality of what one already is in Christ.  What crucially distinguishes Christians is that we already know the good news. (123)

That will, naturally, sound terribly arrogant to some, but it makes sense in the context of what Placher is saying (I may post about that later).  But do you see the similarities between Barth’s (paraphrased) words and the words of Bonhoeffer?   All this was mostly to say that there is a surprising amount of overlap and interrelation and (unwitting) dialogue (not about universalism, though) between the various things I’ve been reading so far this semester.  Bonhoeffer. Placher. Yoder. Fascinating.

Also, though, universalism (or at least the hope for it) isn’t the Brad-Pitt-in-12-Monkeys of theology.  Or maybe it is.

Back to reading.

Keener Guy

I’ve been to 2 out of my 3 regular classes so far (1 class will be a week long affair in October, and the other class is distance learning) and so far so good.

Theological Foundations 1 looks like it will be an engaging course with lots of discussion.  I raised my hand often enough in class to get a “We’ll get to your question in a bit” from the professor (we didn’t get to it).  After class I jokingly asked him if I could lose marks for talking too much in class.  He said I wouldn’t, but that other students need to be given a chance (he didn’t say it rudely–his answer was just fair and direct).  I immediately regretted asking the question, as the joke probably didn’t come across as intended and, instead, sounded more like a sarcastic remark.  Ah, the travails of meeting professors for the first time–feeling nervous, wanting to impress them, the inevitable and immediate regret at having said what you just said.  Good times.

I also suggested that the author of a letter to the editor published in the Winnipeg Free Press, which we discussed in class and to which the professor had written a response, had, in fact, filched the letter verbatim from Richard Dawkins.  I’m not sure if this was helpful or interesting at all to the professor, especially given the fact that he had already submitted his response for publication.

Introductory Hebrew 1 looks like it will be a good class, too, and perhaps not as intense as I had imagined.  The subject matter will take a lot of work to master, but at this stage at least learning a new language is fun.  It turns out that all the work I did yesterday–memorizing the Hebrew alphabet (consonants), the final forms, the gutturals, the begadkephat letters and completing lesson 1 in the workbook–was unnecessary, as we were introduced to that material in today’s class and the assignment (workbook) is not due until the next class.  (I guess it can’t hurt to learn the material before class and then use the class as a review and question time.)

The problem is that all of this–the talking, the bad joke-making, the cross-referencing to Richard Dawkins, the over-preparedness for class–is that it makes me seem like a keener.  Keener Guy.  I don’t want to be that guy.  I want to do well and I want to be prepared for class, but I don’t want to be the annoying know-it-all who won’t shut up.

Christian Ethics‘ first class is on Monday and it is taught by the same professor as Theological Foundations 1, so I’ll have another crack at a more reserved, quietly intelligent approach.

It remains to be seen whether the 4-class plus the Briercrest course schedule will be too much.  Hebrew has the potential, if I let it, to consume all of my time, but the other classes aren’t too bad.  I have no major research papers, other than the one for the Briercrest course.  Unusually, September and early October seem to be the big hurdle to overcome:  I have a critical book review on William Placher’s Narratives of a Vulnerable God due on September 28; a critical book review of John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus due on September 30; three other books, plus a paper and assignment must be completed by October 5 for the week-long intensive; and then, almost immediately following the week-long intensive, my Briercrest course is to be completed, which means I have a 15-page research paper, plus a Greek terminology assignment to do before then.  This is all interspersed with Hebrew quizzes.

Now, I’m looking forward to all of these readings and studies.  But will I survive?

If I get to October 13 (a month from Sunday) successfully the rest of the semester will feel like a breeze (pray for me).