Aug 26, 2007

Before starting Christ and Horrors we took this class to lay some groundwork. The class had two main sections:

First, we noted that Christ and Horrors is a work of theodicy. Stephen Davis, in his preface to Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy, defines theodicy narrowly and broadly.

Davis's narrow definition: A theodicy is a demonstration that God is righteous and just despite the presence of evil in the world.

Generally, this narrow definition is focused on reconciling the following propositions:

1. God is omnipotent (i.e., all-powerful)
2. God is perfectly good (omnibenevolent)
3. Evil exists.

The classic articulation of this perspective comes from David Hume: "Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both willing and able? Whence then is evil?"

But that is a narrow and logic-centric view of theodicy. Most theodicies are more existential in nature. Thus:

Davis's broader definition: "Any response to the problem of evil from the perspective of Judeo-Christian religious belief."

That is, theodicy doesn't have to focus narrowly on propositions but can be broadly construed as any attempt--existential, personal, epistemological--that confront the problem of evil from a (for our purposes) Christian perspective.

Davis points out that different facets of evil create different kinds of problems. I'll simplify by calling these the problems of existence, degree, and surd evil.

The Problem of Existence: For some, the very existence of evil is the problem.

The Problem of Degree: For some, it is not the existence of evil, per se, that is the problem. Rather, it is the amount or degree of evil in the world.

The Problem of Surd Evil: For some, it is not the existence or amount of evil that is the problem. Rather, it is the senseless, random, and inexplicable nature of evil.

Overall, then, theodicies deal with these questions and problems. Christ and Horrors is a part of this strain in theology.

Before beginning any study of theodicy we need to recognize the differences among us. Specifically, people are "satisfied" at different points in theodicy conversations. To illustrate this, I trotted out a model for describing people at church to describe how we deal differently with theodicy issues. I call the model First-, Second-, and N-Order Complaint.

To start, everyone, at some point, confronts the issues of theodicy. We all suffer and we need to understand. Sometimes our questions are acute and personal (e.g., personal trauma). Sometimes our questions are historical (e.g., the Holocaust). Sometimes existential (e.g., pain in the human condition). Thus, believers are particularly keen to hit upon a suite of answers to all these questions. How can a good and all-powerful God allow these things to happen?.

The first round of these questions I call FIRST-ORDER COMPLAINT. Thus, the answers that arise to meet this first round of questions I call FIRST-ORDER RESPONSES. There are a variety of first-order responses. Typical ones include free will, human sinfulness, Satan, or how the relational potential inherent in love implies the dark side of possible pain.

At this point in the conversation people start to sort themselves into two different groups. One group is generally satisfied with these first-order responses. They see the first-order responses as, generally speaking, adequate. However, there is a second group (and I am among them) that looks over the first-order responses and is partly or wholly unsatisfied. All these responses do is succeed in creating another round of questions. This second round of questions, in response to the first round, I call SECOND-ORDER COMPLAINT.

There are responses that can be offered at this second level of complaint. We can call these SECOND-ORDER RESPONSES. However, and I bet you guessed this, the process can continue. We can have another wave of THIRD-ORDER COMPLAINT with THIRD-ORDER RESPONSES. And forth-order. And fifth-order. And so on.

Thus, what I call N-ORDER COMPLAINT, is round upon round of complaint-response.

The point for community living is that there are different kinds of people in our classrooms. Some people are FIRST-ORDER COMPLAINT people while others are N-ORDER COMPLIANT people. And, if we are not careful, these two groups of people can quickly find themselves in the thick of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Specifically, the FIRST-ORDER group will see the N-ORDER group as nihilistic and faithless. Conversely, the N-ORDER group will see the FIRST-ORDER group as pollyannaish and shallow.

This outcome is unfortunate and unproductive. So, we need to be alerted to these possible conflicts. As we go forward we need to allow room for people different from us.


Aug 5, 2007

This post will summarize the third "theme" that NT Wright believes can be prominently identified within Paul's writings, that of Gospel and Empire.

This is a simple, fairly demonstrable theme that has radical implications. Here is how it works:

Dominating the world in Paul's day was the Roman Empire. At the head of that Empire was Caesar himself. At various points in time, Caesar had claimed to be the one who brings "peace" (remember the pax Romana?) , to be the "savior" of the peoples whose leaders he conquered, to be the "Lord" of the world, and to be the "son of God." Also, whenever a military victory was announced, people would ride through the streets of a city announcing "good news" or the "gospel" of his victory.

Do these claims sound familiar? In fact, they are the same claims that the writers of the New Testament generally, and Paul more specifically, continuously use to refer to Jesus. The claim that "Jesus is Lord" (a phrase which Wright interprets to be a summary of Paul's gospel) is, in fact, a political claim - it indicates that, as God reclaims his world, true authority is to be found in Jesus and not in Caesar or any other Emperor, king, dictator, or (in modern terms) constitutional body.

Thus, in Romans 1, when Paul says he is eager to preach his gospel (i.e., to announce that "Jesus is Lord") in Rome, and then follows that by stating he "is not ashamed of the Gospel," he means it. Paul intends, it seems, to march right into the seat of Caesar's power, and announce that Caesar is not - as he claims - in charge of the world.

There is a new Lord in the world, and anyone else who claims to hold authority over creation should take note.

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