Sunday, October 4, 2009

Uncomfortable Ideas

What's an idea that makes you uncomfortable? (We're trying to be serious here, OK?) We all tend to prefer the company and conversation of people and ideas that affirm or support what we already think and believe, but some of our best steps forward can come through interaction with ideas and perspectives that call some of our cherished convictions into question. So what's rockin' your boat and rattlin' your cage these days? Or what's an example from your past of how a significant forward step emerged out of a shaking or even shattering of what you thought you knew?

51 comments:

Robert said...

I will tell you what is shaking my tree...getting everything done... and packed to get to Columbus!

John M. said...

Not going to make it to ACM this year... You all have a great time.

Brian Emmet said...

HOw can we without you and Vickie? We'll do our best...

This post ain't gettin' no traction...?

John M. said...

For some reason I'm fresh out of "uncomfortable" ideas... kinda wierd -- perhaps the most uncomfortable ones, I don't really want to share!

Ed said...

It seems that most ideas which make me uncomfortable have to do with the grace of God. In other words, I am continually caught between what Ed sees and what God sees.

So, about the time I get my heart/mind settled into a new bunker, the grace of God blows it up. And, that makes me very uncomfortable.

A prominent friend of mine struggled with the whole idea of grace. Yet, he felt compelled to speak about it at his conferences. Once he shared the stage with a wise old statesman of the church. After my friend spoke, this old man walked over to him and simply said, "If your preaching about grace doesn't scare you and make you feel like a heretic, then you probably don't understand grace."

steve H said...

I pray you all have a great time in the presence of the Lord at ACM. Wish I were able to be with you, but forgot about the dates being earlier this year and scheduled a wedding this weekend.

John M. said...

Well said Ed...

Jeremiah said...

Hi guys. Haven't been around awhile. Here is an idea I've been thinking about. The word for sin, as you all know is Harmatano. Strongs says that it is a compound word made of two smaller ones, the first means a negation and the second means a portion, alottment, division or share. So the word harmatano means to be without an alottment.

An alottment of what? I believe the "what" is GRACE.

To insert "without an alottment of GRACE" in as a substitute for the word sin in the Bible, then, in my opinion really deepens what is being said.

For example when JESUS says "Go and sin no more", the statment becomes "Go and no longer be without an alottment of GRACE" The statement is seen as a blessing of transformation instead of as a command this poor woman has to attain to.

I'm not sure the statement makes me uncomfortable, but it sure does widen my eyes.

steve H said...

I'm hoping your time at ACM in Columbus went well. The wedding I was doing went well--although it was an outdoor wedding,nigh onto flooded out for rehearsal, and quite chilly for the wedding. Hardy mountain folk!

My wife and I will be away next week at a hospitality ministry for "Christian workers" northwest of Dayton, OH. Not sure how much access, if any we'll have to internet and not sure how much I want to engage it any way. We're looking for a time of quiet and fellowship in the presence of the Lord. Plan to return home next Sunday.

just joe said...

Nice to have you join the conversation Ed. Everybody: this is Ed Chin, a good friend, writer and author of Footsteps in the Sea, one of the best books I read last year. Ed, I feel more and more heretical as my understanding of grace grows in the context of friendship with secular young people.

Jeremiah: good to have you drop in! I like your definitions of sin and grace.

I have not commented much because I am one week into a two week training course for a bartending certification. Old missionaries never die, they just need to find gainful employment. The certification training is from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm every day, and from there I run over to the university for my teaching assistanceship responsibilities – often until until 8 or 9 pm. Long days.

By-the-way, Deb is on a new protocol: every week now, instead of every two-weeks, with a whole new set of side-effects, including some emotional numbness and mild depression.

What makes me uncomfortable? Thinking about the future, along with several other things such as large crowds and unecessary meetings.

John M. said...

Jeremiah, good to hear from you. Glad you dropped by.
Joseph, thanks for the update. I wondered where you were. The older I get the more the future makes me uncomfortable also. When I was in my 20's and 30's I thought it would be just the opposite. But now that I'm turning 60 and have observed "old age" up close and personal with Vicki's Mom and my Mom -- and look at the financial aspects of the future -- it looks shakey and scary. I find myself having parnoid thoughts about it sometimes instead of faith-filled, hope-filled thoughts.

When I was 20 something and my Grandfather was 80 something, he told me, "Son, you don't know what it's like to be old." He said it with a weary, depressed, kind of forelorn tone of voice. He was right (that I didn't know), and now that I do know better about what it's like, it doesn't look very attractive.

Jeremiah said...

Aahhh you guys talking about being old... I'm starting to get a faint glimpse of what that will look like.

This year as my thirty-fifth birthday started to approach I started to feel sad... I realized that somehow 35 had been in my mind a milestone year by which I had expected to be at a certain place in life.

I am no where near that place. It got me down and I finally had to stop and say ok LORD, my vision for my life didn't happen, I can't even see a way for it to get back on track to that at this point, so what now?

One of the Psalms talks about the righteous staying "fresh and green" into old age. You guys are such a blessing because you give me hope that I can stay fresh and green for another twenty, thirty or however many more years.

Thank you for your dilligence and keep on with your faithfulness. I know it is tough, with each passing day I become so much more aware of how much I need GOD'S Grace and how little I can do to hold myself steady.

I've thought a lot lately about how even JESUS HIMSELF couldn't hold himself in place until the end, and so GOD gave HIM 4 nails to keep HIM pinned to the Cross. I know there are painful, piercing things in my life that GOD has sent me to skewer me to HIS way...I've been calling these the Nails of Grace. They are a blessing even though they hurt.

You guys have already endured so many more years than I have and you are still hammering away. Thank you.

John M. said...

Hey Jeremiah. I'm nowhere near where I thought I would be at 60. I don't know whether that encourages or discourages, but it's a fact... When you go three and out, you have to punt, no matter what the game plan might have been. Hopefully you'll get another set of downs to give it another shot, but the clock and the scoreboard don't run backwards.

Brian Emmet said...

Just a quick hello. Good comments--I appreciate the personal element, and vulnerability. Welcome, Ed, and welcome back, Jeremiah. I'll be back...

John M. said...

Brian, welcome back. Give us an update on ACM. Missed seeing everyone. Hope it was a good time.

Brian Emmet said...

I thought ACM was excellent, apart from the absence of some of you. Good theme--"Who Is My Neighbor?"--and good presentations. I'm pretty sure all the talks will be available online for mp3 download (free!) at some point in the near future. Rebecca Petrie's book is now available. My friend Volodya, from Uzbekistan (knows Erick well), came along and in some ways was the surprise hit of the gathering.

I'm intrigued by Ed's comments (and had a chance to read his book a few weeks ago). What Ed said reminded me of my response to Robert Farrar Capon's book, "The Mystery of Christ and Why We Don't Get It". It's the kind of book that sometimes made me laugh, and at other times made me want to throw it at the wall! I'm not sure Capon's approach to grace, which is what the book is about, gets it entirely right, but here's a 75+ year old Episcopal priest who's saying some things that would resonante with all of you.

Mike Cook shared an interesting quote from Dallas Willard (not sure which book) at ACM: "Grace is opposed to earning, but it is not opposed to effort" (my paraphrase, but I think I have it pretty close).

For those of you who know Mike, he's battling brain cancer that metastasized from his bladder. He seems to be doing well--just coming off brain radiation--and is living life in Mike's usual full-bore way. I'm not sure how serious his situation is (brain cancer is always serious), or what his prognosis might look like.

Robert said...

Brian...a little more light on Mike Cook. He underwent brain radiation as a preventative measure but has not been diagnosed with brain cancer. The type of bladder cancer he has been dealing with seems to migrate to the brain, so they did the treatments as a prophylactic effort.

Thanks for all of your great contributions to ACM this year...a very unusual convergence of thought on a great theme that could only have been orchestrated by the Lord. Given that there was no prior collaboration, the unity and harmony of thought was very impressive.

just joe said...

Bri: I heard through the grapevine that you hit it out of the park, and that Robert didn't do too shabby either.

Regarding the book by Robert Farrar Capon, could you give a thumbnail and explain what parts made you want to throw it against the wall??

Debbie is after me to read "The Sacred Romance" ... she thinks it might speak to me in some helpful ways.

I'm about 2/3rds the way through the Belcher book. I got stuck on page 139 on worship (in a good way) and scanned it into my computer. Belcher makes me uncomfortable a lot ..

Brian Emmet said...

My apologies for the misinformation about Mike Cook, and thanks, Robert, for the correction...and glad that he only needs preventative radiation. Let me dig my copy of the Capon book out of my wallboard and provide a summary...

Ed said...

Brian, I'd really love to know what made you want to throw my book against the wall. I need and like criticism. Call me, email me, or blog about it.

BTW, I tracked Robert Farrar Capon down and called him. Had a very delightful conversation. I've been hoping to go visit him. He lives on Long Island and is splendidly retired. Told me he will never write or speak publicly again.

BTW, Christmas is just around the corner. Surely, a copy of my book to all your friends will make your Christmas easy and inexpensive! :-)

Brian Emmet said...

Ed, it was Capon's book that generated that response from me! But come to think of it, I think I pulled a few hairs out reading yours, too! Shall we do this as a sidebar?

Brian Emmet said...

OK, a somewhat lengthy paragraph from R. F. Capon's "The Mystery of Christ, and Why We Dopn't Get It". Actually, let me first say that Capon is an excellent, inventive, fun-to-read author. You'll be improved by reading him, even if you conclude his content is off-the-mark.

"... the mysterious reconciling grace that was revealed in Jesus is not something that got its act in gear for the first time in Jesus; it is a feature of the very constitution of the universe--a feature that was there all along, for everybody and for everything. And it was there, Christians believe, because the Person who manifests himself finally and fully in Jesus' humanity is none other than the Word of God, the Second Person of the Three Persons in One God who is intimately and immediately present to every scrap of creation from start to finish... guilt, as we commonly conceive it, is neither a NT nor even a Christian category. We see guilt as something that will condemn us unless we can get rid of it. Gospel Christianity sees it as something God has gotten rid of for us, free for nothing. 'There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,' says Paul (Rom. 8:1): God has declared a blanket presumption of innocence over every one of us--a presumption based on the fact that he has gone ahead and made us innocent already in his Beloved Son... You're worried that it might give people the idea that they have permission to sin. Well, I have news for you: everybody, to the best of my knowledge, already has permission to do any damned-fool thing he or she can get away with. That doesn't make it smart to sin or fun to sin, or even make sin a good idea becasue it gives grace a chance to abound. But it does mean that God, on the available evidence, is not seriously in the sin-prevention business. He's in the sin-forgiving business... No matter what we do... we are off the judgment hook as long as we are in this life--and we are off it forever as well, I think, because if you read the judgment passages in Scripture in light of the irrevocable grace that the NT posits as the heart of God's plan, you come up with a distinctly happier picture even of the Last Judgment" (pages 25-28).

That was actually a compilation over several paragraphs.

just joe said...

wow, that was awesome. Look like another book for me to read!

John M. said...

Whew! I can tell you guys are back from ACM. It was a little quiet in here over the weekend.

Brian, thanks for the update on ACM, Robert on Michael, and the Capon quotes. Never heard of him or his book. I like the way he throw's "grace in your face"!

Brian Emmet said...

All readers/lurkers, please remember that our upcoming topic will be a discussion of Belcher's book "Deep Church." Your reading will greatly enhance your participation and our overall conversation!

I guess I'm uncomfortable with the idea that "grace" means that sanctification/spiritual growth becomes a bit ... optional. That's why I sometimes throw Capon's book against the wall and why I mentioned the Dallas Willard quote that "Grace is opposed to earning, but not opposed to effort." I want to be careful not to misrepresent Capon--his book is a nuanced and careful treatment of this whole subject, but I still come away from it feeling that he got it about half right. But you should read it for yourself and reach your own conclusions!

Any other ideas that make you uncomfortable? Want to kick around grace some more? I'm reminded of the parable of the compassionate landowner who paid all his workers the daily wage: his grace made some folks really angry!

just joe said...

Why do you assume that Capon’s description of amazing, incredible, superlative, awesome grace poured out potentially to all humanity, removing guilt once for all, necessarily implies that sanctification a bit … effortless? Or somehow less desirable?

Robert said...

Folks...I am just jumping into "Deep Church" along with the other stuff I need to read. Can't get to Capon today...mainly because I don't have it yet. One book at a time for me. BTW...I am liking Belcher.

Ed said...

This is really good stuff. I love the Capon quote. Yes, Brian, email me with any critique. ed@edchinn.com.

Brian Emmet said...

Will do, Ed, although I think what I have for you is "reader's response" as opposed to "critique."

Not to quibble, Joseph, but Capon would not use the word "potentially" as you did. he would say that God's grace has, and always has, been freely poured out upon everyone, regardless of their response. One of his illustrations, which I like, pictures it like this: Jesus has hidden a million dollars in crsip new bills under a rock in your yard. Faith means you hear this good news and immediately go out and start turning over every rock you can find! Theology involves figuring out the "why's" and "how's" behind the money being placed there. Actually, that probably sets theology (Capon is a highly trained dogmatic theologian) and faith against each other in a way that Capon might not like... I want to be careful to represent him and not my responses/reactions.

just joe said...

ok Brian -- I realize that wikipedia cannot be cited as the ultimate and most reliable source, but in wikipedia, he is quoted as saying that he is not a 'universalist' although he takes a very high view of universally accessible grace. He acknowledges (again, wikipedia) that there is a reality to eternal separation from God. That is why I used the word "postentially."

just joe said...

Ed: it is also good to receive the blessing of your participation. We nearly always have good time in here ... even when we argue. This has been a long-needed forum for us egg-headed book-worms and pseudo-theologians wannabes who go dreamy eyed with the musty smell of a used book store.

Jeremiah said...

wow guys, I was just working on painfully translating Romans 6:1. It has direct bearing on the conversation of Grace/Sin, etc.

I already posted the translation on the word sin, here is what Strongs says about Grace: "It is the divine influence on the heart and its reflection in life"

Now, most of you have literally been doing this longer than I have been alive so you probably know this. But taking the two definitions together, sin=to be without an alotment (of GRACE)
and Grace=the divine influence upon the heart and suddenly the Christian life looks more like it is about the flow of GODS divine influence than any other thing

Sin prevention becomes an ancilliary benefit at most.

The amount of focus we put on sin then becomes an indicator of how much our eyes are no longer "fixed on Jesus..."

I really liked that passage you read Brian.

So then I ask "How much Grace can I receive, and how much can I give?"

Grace isn't a requirement because I've sinned and need help. Participating in the flow of GRACE is Normal Christian Life.

John Norton said...

Hi All! Brian did a great job at ACM. It was a good event overall, but many of you were missed.

The notion that Capon expresses here-

"God has declared a blanket presumption of innocence over every one of us--a presumption based on the fact that he has gone ahead and made us innocent already in his Beloved Son..."

-makes me uncomfortable if he leaves out the response of the sinner.

I am half way through the Capon book, very thought provoking.

Flannery O'Connor describes violence as a means of grace. Before we can respond to grace, we must be broken.

Can we see and know grace without first seeing our sin and shame- facing our humiliation?

John M. said...

Hey John,
Good to hear from you brother. Missed seeing everyone at ACM. This year just wasn't it for us...

Notice that Capon says "presumtion of innocence". It does appear to fly in the face of the tradional Augustinian understanding that we are all leagally condemned and totally depraved, but perhaps it balances the extremes of that interpretation... Is it closer to how God sees us? Bears some relfection.

just joe said...

I discovered that I had a book by Robert Farrar Capon sitting in my library for several years. It is called "The Parables of the Kingdom". I started reading it last night.

I receieve a daily email from a web site devoted to Henri Nouwen, from his devotional book, Bread for the Journey. I thought today's meditation was worth reproducing here:


The Church, Spotless and Tainted

The Church is holy and sinful, spotless and tainted. The Church is the bride of Christ, who washed her in cleansing water and took her to himself "with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless" (Ephesians 5:26-27). The Church too is a group of sinful, confused, anguished people constantly tempted by the powers of lust and greed and always entangled in rivalry and competition.

When we say that the Church is a body, we refer not only to the holy and faultless body made Christ-like through baptism and Eucharist but also to the broken bodies of all the people who are its members. Only when we keep both these ways of thinking and speaking together can we live in the Church as true followers of Jesus.

John M. said...

Good Quote Joseph. The dichotomy is certainly true with us as individuals. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that we're the same corporately...

Brian Emmet said...

We're getting geared up for our next Topic, a discussion of Jim Belcher's book, "Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional" (IVPress, 2009). If you haven't gotten a copy and started to read yet, may we request that you do so? Thanks!

Brian Emmet said...

John M (and everyone), if we're not Augistinian, won't we end up Pelagian?

John N (and everyone), does the prodigal younger son repent in "the far country" and does his father receive him back because of that response by the son?

just joe said...

Brian: in that story, how would the father know that the younger son had repented? He saw him from far off, but certainly not in the far country, and his instant response was to run to him.

Brian Emmet said...

You're right, Joseph. I'm not convinced that the younger son truly repented in the far country. After all, he returns home with a plan to command his father to fix his situation: "MAKE me one of your hired hands..." This son is interested primarily in his own survival, and secondarily by a plan to set things right by "repaying" his dad. Capon is good on this: forgiveness is NOT God's response to repentance; repentance is our response to God's forgiving us in Christ.

The father has to run like a mother would, but for a different reason: if that father doesn't reach to son first, and publicly demonstrate to the community that he, the father, has made peace with his son, the community will beat the lad to a bloody pulp.

Kenneth Bailey's work has really helped me with this story; all I'm doing here is retracing a few of his steps.

just joe said...

I'm not familiar with Bailey: what else have you read by Capon other than the one you mentioned, "The Mystery of Christ" ?

just joe said...

John and Brian: are Augustinian or Pelagian the only two polar options? What about the Eastern Orthodox views, which are not really one or the other?

Brian Emmet said...

Hoist again on the petard of my either/or modernism! How does Orthodoxy view the issue?

I've read a fair amount of Capon--the "parables" seried you mentioned, which I found excellent; "The Third Peacock" (an early piece of his, now OP), "Health, Money and Love--and Why We Don't Enjoy Them"--I think you'd enjoy and benefit from most anything of his!

david said...

brian, as i understand it, the eastern orthodox reject the augustinian notions of inherited guilt and total depravity as well as rejecting the pelagian views that the ancestral sin did not damage human nature at all.

rather the eastern orthodox take is that man's inherited nature (hypostasis) is fallen away and separated from God. they see the consequences of the fall as being those of physical death and weakness of the will. they see salvation in Christ as not a change in "legal" status (saved or damned) but a change in actual being.

Brian Emmet said...

Thanks, David. Not to quarrel, but to understand: is Orthodoxy striking a "mid" position between Augustine and Pelagius, or taking a different tack altogether? Do they see human nature as irretrievably damaged apart from Christ, and if so, how does this differ from Augustine?

david said...

brian, the orthodox position was established before either augustine or pelagius - so i don't think they are trying to find a mid-point. i think to us now in the west, it seems that they are taking the middle path between these two well know theologians.

again, the orthodox don't embrace the augustinian ideas of inherited guilt or total depravity. it seems to me that the orthodox find the augustinian view too juridical for their liking. they tend to focus on the fact that Jesus came to bring life and redemption to humanity - actually changing the nature of man and not just making him "legally" saved.

here's a quote i found but am not sure exactly who to source (sorry)
"A further problem with Satisfaction theories is that sin becomes God’s problem. He loves mankind and wants to forgive, but he cannot because He is Just. So the Atonement becomes a way for God to have a relationship with us and not us changing our relationship with Him. For the Orthodox, to be saved is to be restored to true spiritual health. It is not God’s attitude towards man that needs to be changed, but rather man’s state."

John M. said...

I love Orthodox theology! I'm a novice in terms of serious study, but every time I touch it, I resonate with it.

Thaks Dave for your input.

steve H said...

Have been away. Regarding the question "...if we're not Augistinian, won't we end up Pelagian?" The Orthodox do indeed have an earlier view which they do hold to be prior to Augustine and Pelagious. They say that Augustine's error is rooted in a mistranslation of Roman 5:12. You can find their view for yourself laid out pastorally in the notes on Romans in the Orthodox Study Bible.

The following papers discuss the matter in a more academic way:

http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.10.en.original_sin_according_to_st._paul.01.htm

and

"The Exegesis of Romans 5:12 among the Greek Fathers and Its Implication for the Doctrine of Original Sin: The 5th - 12th Centuries" by David Weaver published in the St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 1985.

I have these articles saved on my computer so if you want them I can send them by email or perhaps one of you techs would want to post them.

just joe said...

so ... the lesson we can draw from this (thanks to David and Steve) is that we should excerize caution about thinking in terms of theological dualisms or dichotomies: "either this/or that"

The phrase a "Third Way" seems to be taking on a lot of significance lately.

It seems to me that I have heard criticism (from somewhere) about Western dualism -- going even further back passed Augustine to Plato.

just joe said...

Sorry, two corrections:
exercise caution” and “further back past Augustine to Plato”.
I really need to get in the habit of writing all my posts in Word and using the spell checker.

John M. said...

In this case the "Third Way" existed before the two dualisms! Does that make it the third way or the first way?