Orthodoxy and Relevance

Christians have long talked about life as a journey, whether as runners or pilgrims or travelers or something else. Journeys tend to involve forks in the road, decisions to make, and obstacles to overcome. Sometimes, the decisions of this journey are between light and darkness, holiness and sin, redemption and backsliding. In these instances, the follower of Christ is called to choose the path of faithfulness. Other times, however, the decisions we make along the way do not seem to be inherently good or bad—it’s not immediately clear whether one path is better than the other.

Such an image of journey has been on my mind lately as I’ve wrestled with what seems to be an increasingly common trope for contemporary Christians: the ongoing debate between orthodoxy and relevance.

Per Merriam-Webster, orthodoxy means “right belief, sound doctrine” and relevance means “the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate.” Based on those definitions, you wouldn’t expect contemporary Christians to believe that orthodoxy and relevance are at odds with one another. But if you talk to many Christians, you’d be wrong. Let me explain. Continue reading

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Reflections on Suffering (Part II)

This article originally appeared on Conciliar Post.

GriefIn my yesterday’s post, I reflected on some of the answers which have been offered to the “question of suffering,” the query about why there is evil and suffering in the world if there is a good and all-powerful God. In today’s post, I hope to begin crafting an “answer” to this question—not an answer in an absolute sense, but rather an perception and understanding by which we can try to make some sense of suffering and loss.

How do we understand and respond to all of the suffering that we see and experience in the world? Douglas John Hall, in his book God and Human Suffering, makes the claim that perhaps it best to think of certain forms of suffering as somehow innate to the human condition—necessary consequences of the limitations of humanity.1 Put another way, freedom is always freedom within certain boundaries—perhaps human suffering arises due to our transgressing our boundaries.2 Plenty of philosophers have tackled this issue: when free agents are created, true freedom necessitates the possibility of using that freedom to engage in activities which inhibit the freedom of other agents.3 Oxford professor Mike Lloyd argues that a measure of free will for humanity is necessary in understanding the issue of evil and suffering, for without freedom there can be no justice (men cannot be held accountable for their actions unless they are free) and no love (the love of predetermined robots is not real love).4
Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Introduction

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

“Modern church people and theologians have sharply attacked [Martin] Luther’s attitude [concerning the relationship between the Christian and temporal authority] from two perspectives. On the one hand, Luther is accused of having indirectly contributed to the glorification of the orders of creation and to that extent at least making it difficult for Lutherans to take a critical attitude toward the Third Reich, the National Socialist Government from 1933 to 1945. On the other hand, Luther is also held responsible for the ‘conservative’ attitude of many Lutheran churches toward the political situations and the revolutionary movements for freedom in countries of the Third World.”[1] Thus scholar Bernhard Lohse summarizes the critique of Martin Luther’s theology concerning the relationship of the Christian to temporal authority, the paradigmatic critique of which concerns that role of Luther’s theology in forming the passivity of the German Lutheran church during the horrors of Nazism under Adolf Hitler.[2] In considering Luther’s theology and these concerns, we must remember that Luther wrote for a time and context that was very different than that of the modern American Christian. Yet the questions concerning the proper relationship of the Christian to temporal authority, as well as numerous considerations that Luther raises in his writings are worthy of consideration today, if for no other reason than to provide an additional perspective by which scholars may frame contemporary issues confronting the Christian tradition. While Luther’s theology could be constructed to support a ‘hands-off’ approach for Christians in their relationship with temporal authority, we will see that such a perspective does not constitute an entirely accurate interpretation of Luther’s ‘doctrine of the two kingdoms.’ Continue reading

Facebook Trends and Book Lists

BooksThe past several weeks my Facebook friends have been swapping lists of their “Ten Most Influential/Important Books.” Now, typically social media trends don’t excite me and giving into peer pressure does not sound very enticing. But when it comes to books and reading, the bibliophile within cannot resist. So I gave in. But seeing all those lists got me thinking: we all have books we have read. What about books that we should have read? In other words, are there some books, or at least some types of books, that educated Christian men and women should read in order to understand who we are and how we have gotten where we are culturally?

As both a lover of books and creator of lists, I had made a “Ten Books You Should Read” list before (and, whatever else I’m about to suggest, we should all consult and read the “Canon” of Western Civilization). Never are my lists intended to be “closed canons”, but instead starting points. So I returned to and modified my list of books that every American Christian should read: Continue reading