Growing up I had always been taught that Mt 1:19 was an apt illustration of the love vs. justice problem that pervades much of evangelical ethical thinking. For many evangelicals this passage provides an example of the inevitable teleological vs. deontological tensions we face in life. Good evangelicals are to take their cue from Joseph, feeling the teleological urge but ultimately being bound to doing “the right thing,” trying to follow the universally valid principles of justice no matter what.
However, why should verse 20, where the angel of the Lord tells Joseph to not follow through on this decision, be read in this dualistic fashion? Isn’t it entirely possible that Joseph, operating from his limited vantage point, was basing his decision not on the command of God but on abstract ethical maxims? It is only when the Lord breaks through this abstraction via his angel that Joseph learns what he is supposed to do. In this more Barthian reading of the passage Joseph is not some tragic western ethical hero, always willing to do right no matter what. Instead, he is sinning by attempting be righteous without knowing the concrete will of God, relying merely on a merely abstract principle of righteousness. Once he had “resolved” to follow through on this decision without seeking the will of God, only God could break through to show him his error.
Divorcing the greatest commandment from how one conceives of just living no doubt can lead us down tyrannical paths, some with implications so severe that God must send his angels to break through to us. More importantly, whenever we divorce our decision-making from seeking the concrete demand of God, reducing discipleship to an ethical calculus, we cannot help but go astray.
In the recently released collection of essays Creation Set Free, Greg Boyd argues that evolution can be situated inside the broader scriptural motif of cosmic warfare between God & Satan. In so doing Boyd (appears to) embrace a faily current scientific understanding of evolution.
What makes this unique is that this affirmation does not develop out of a liberal reading of scripture, in which the biblical narrative is demythologized & made to square with current evolutionary theory. Rather, Boyd comes from a thoroughly evangelical perspective, one that has a “high” view of scripture (unless you think his open theism renders him unworthy of the label evangelical).
I found some of Boyd’s thoughts provocative, but what really interests me is that a conservative evangelical appears to be at the very least sympathetic to neodarwinian evolution. I know that this is not a completely new phenomenon, but in my judgment is still far too rare among evangelical theology. Further, while proponents of open theism have never been afraid to live on the boundaries of evangelicalism, I am excited by someone of conservative evangelical stripe being willing to approach evolution without a dismissive or reactionary attitude. As Clark Pinnock, a fellow evangelical OT & doctrinal tightrope walker once said, “may his tribe increase.”
Being situated as i am in a mostly conservative evangelical setting, i have noticed an infatuation with the idea of understanding one’s “identity” as a means of spiritual formation. In case some are not aware of it, here is a brief layout of the concept:
- A relationship with Christ makes one a new creation (eg one is “given a new identity”).
- Based largely upon Romans 12:1-2, much (all?) of one’s struggles in spiritual formation can be reduced to negative understandings of one’s self, a misunderstanding of their new identity.
- When one grasps their new identity, they are spiritually liberated/mature/in step with the Spirit, etc etc.
Although there are different nuances to this, that is pretty much it. As (1) makes clear above, it is one’s connection to Christ that is the root of this new identity. However, i see that often (1) is simply the instrument, the tool to get to the important stuff, which is who I am now. In many ways, the discipleship process can be reduced to an almost anthropological journey of self-discovery. It seems that one can fall into a sort of spiritual narcissism in their quest to unlock the awesomeness of their identities, ironically undercutting the fundamental needs for self-denial & an outward focus in the life of discipleship.
To be fair, bright-minded women & men could respond that an outward focus & submissive life-style are also part of the identities which they must grasp. Fair enough. My question is if such a genuine grasping of these dimensions of discipleship is possible when there is a functional, instrumental Christology at work (an issue I recently wrote about here). Did Jesus come only/primarily to give me a new identity? Can the scope of the incarnation be reduced to this function, this need of mine? I am doubtful; something seems fishy to me. If the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection were only a tool to provide us with a new identity, how else can we understand these acts of God as anything more than just that, a tool for us? If the Gospel is primarily about me & my need, how can i move beyond myself to genuine renunciation?
Enough for now; bed time. I hope to think more on this soon, but anyone have thoughts? Am I just out to lunch here?
I found this recent development interesting, given how my most recent post talked about the possible shift in evangelical’s view of faith and politics. This would appear to be more evidence of at least serious discussion, if not an outright shift in thought. Enjoy!
Check this audio discussion. Here is the synopsis:
A passionate discussion is unfolding in public and in private among Evangelical leaders and communities. Should Christians be involved in politics and if so, how? What has gone wrong, and what has been learned from the Moral Majority up until now. In this live public conversation, Krista probes these ideas with three formative Evangelicals.
In case you nned to be tempted a little more to listen to it, the three evangelicals are Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne.
Over the last year or so, a lot of my beliefs have been shifting significantly. To cite one example, growing up in a conservative church, i never knew that there was a view other than the one i held, which i later learned was called the memorial view. My beliefs on this matter have already shifted somewhat, and are still a bit in process. So, here are my current musings on the Lord’s Supper, which i originally discussed here:
I think that since nearly all conservative evangelicals typically (over?)emphasize the sermon, the Eucharist is an afterthought. It seems that most people don’t even think about what is happening at the Lord’s Table. To me this is tragic.
My two cents on why many evangelicals downplay the Lord’s Supper is that most have a severely underdeveloped pneumatology. Although this is changing the Holy Spirit is still, to paraphrase the great theologian Karl Barth’s (and maybe Picard’s) words: “the last theological frontier.”
How this fleshes out in the Eucharist is that since we often fail to realize the presence of Christ in the Holy Spirit many relegate Jesus back to the 1st century and “remember” Him in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus doesn’t need to merely be remembered. Jesus wants to connect with us here and now when we take the sacrament. I know that i’m caricaturing the memorial view a bit, but i think that many fall into this trap of merely “remembering” what Jesus did for them, as opposed to being lifted into the presence of Christ here and now in the sacrament.
All that said, i’m not sure what category i best fit into. I don’t know if i need to have absolute clarity on this matter: a little mystery seems okay at this point. I do know that i’ve moved past a mere “memorial” view. I think this is healthy. It seems to me that to think about the Lord’s Supper in pneumatological (and thus Trinitarian) terms forces us to do so.