a few Wesleyan hurdles: inner/outer, 'heart'

Writing about Wesley is hard. He uses a lot of expressions that I find archaic, and the ways he deals with some concepts rubs me the wrong way. Two related examples. First, his usage of 'heart' is difficult for me because I'm worried about how it might be participating in the popular dichotomy between "head" and "heart" - between emotion and cognition - that I find troubling because of the ways that it ignores desire's essential involvement in how and why and what we think (and all of that's involvement in how and why and what we do).

Second, Wesley employs concepts of "outward religion" and "inward religion", a dichotomy that is easy enough to understand but arguably more troublesome than the aforementioned. My fear here is that the inward will become the realm of Christianity and the outward, 'more serious' stuff will become the responsibility of some other more 'practical' power, be it politics, pocketbook, personal preference, etc. We can tuck God safely away in a little 'inward' box and justify some pretty un-Christlike things. See pretty much anything written by JH Yoder or Michael Gorman if you're not sure what I mean. The gospel isn't 'fire insurance' it's a whole new life - a new creation - here and now. And that's radical, disruptive stuff.

But my concerns are pretty contemporary, and Wesley is not a 21st century man, he is a 18th century man. And so I think he largely predates these misconceptions, at least in their modern form. In fact, I think these misconceptions actually came out of the mixture of Wesley's language, along with parallel language coming from other quarters, and later (and a few concurrent) philosophical developments and fashions.

This claim is bolstered by the fact that much of his energies are spent holding inward and outward religion together, employing the distinction to undercut the distance between the two. For Wesley, inward religion necessarily breeds outward religions, and outward religion fosters and deepens inward religion. The two are of a piece, and can't be separated without doing violence to both.

Furthermore, for Wesley the 'heart' isn't too separate a thing either. The Oxford Fellow just means to point out that our human desires are exactly where God wants to go to work on us. God wants to transform and reform us where we love. Moreover, Wesley is also no adherent of Deb from Napoleon Dynamite's "follow your heart" philosophy (yeah, I just went there).

I noticed these 'hurdles' (and other similar concerns) over the summer as well, but the more I read Wesley the more I am convinced that Wesley is merely a victim of a changing conversation, and that he is not guilty of these modern philosophical and theological crimes.

Translate? Contextualize? Accommodate?

A handful of Messianic Jews, moving beyond the defenses of their somewhat separate society to attack the intellectual bastions of majority culture, refused to contextualize their message by clothing it in the categories the world held ready. Instead, they seized the categories, hammered them into other shapes, and turned the cosmology on its head, with Jesus both at the bottom, crucified as a common criminal, and at the top, preexistent Son and creator, and the church his instrument in today's battle.

John Howard Yoder, "But We Do See Jesus: The Particularity of Incarnation and the Universality of Truth." The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel, 54.

Later (p. 68), in a different essay, Yoder observes that it seems too early to tell whether the whole "contextualization" trend in conservative evangelicalism will be helpful or not, based on the observation that it hasn't been at work long enough for us to see whether it will develop some criteria to discern the line between a faithful "contextualization" and a heretical one. Though it is unclear what year this particular essay was originally written, the collection was first published in 1984. I'm curious, now that at least 25 years has passed since this sidebar-esque comment (and now that I have at least as many liberal or progressive friends that would defend contextualization as I have conservative friends who continue to talk about missions in terms of contextualization), whether or not any of the proponents of contextualization has developed such a set of criteria?

People Currently Residing in My Head

Abigail wanted me to make a list of the thinkers I reference in class, and write a few words about each of them and what kinds of questions they are dealing with. This is a start. These are people whose thoughts have influenced my own, with a particular emphasis on things I've read or interacted with recently and therefore might be more likely to reference. I included pictures, because Abigail seems to think that might get me an extra bathroom in my mansion in heaven, and Jesus said to store up treasures in heaven (by which I'm sure he would have included bathrooms had there been indoor plumbing in the first century). So here it is:

Karl Barth

Swiss theologian/really neat guy. When I got my copy of his Church Dogmatics in the mail, a certain classmate of mine responded, "Retire your Bible!" I look forward to reading him after I'm all done with school.

YoderJohnH1 John Howard Yoder

Awesome facial hair. Mennonite theologian, studied in Switzerland where he had the chance to take a number of classes with Karl Barth. His The Politics of Jesus was widely read and very influential. The cross, not the sword, controls the meaning of history. The relationship between the obedience of God's people and the triumph of God's cause is not one of cause and effect but of cross and resurrection. The church is an alternative polis and engages politically on its own terms. Turn ons: Luke's gospel. Turn offs: Constantinianism.

mcclendon James Wm. McClendon, Jr.

Grew up Baptist in Louisiana, went to the University of Texas (my alma mater - Hook 'em Horns!) and Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Was fired from a teaching post at a Southern Baptist seminary in California for sending students to march with Martin Luther King Jr., and he was also fired from a teaching post at a Catholic school in California for being against the Vietnam War. Other than a year as visiting professor of theology at Notre Dame in the 70's (where Yoder, MacIntyre and Hauerwas were all teaching at the time), he pretty much stuck to the West coast. He wrote a non-foundationalist systematic theology from a "baptist" (intentionally small 'b') perspective, by which he intended to include Baptists, Mennonites, Campbellites, Brethren, and many others. His 'baptist vision' is this is that and then is now, by which he means that the church today is the church at the resurrection and the church on the last days. His systematic starts with Ethics (how must the church live to be the church? - Way, Watch-care, Witness), moves on to Doctrine (what must the church teach to be the church? - starts with eschatology, examines the Identity of Jesus Christ and finally the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit), and finishes with Witness (what must the church's stance vis a vis the world be in order to be the church? - theology and culture, theology and philosophy, theology of mission). Wittgenstein, MacIntyre, Yoder, the Radical Reformation.

murphy-nanceyNancey Murphy

Church of the Brethren, Fuller Seminary. Studied Philosophy of Science with Paul Feyerband and Theology with James McClendon. Holism in epistemology. Thinks of theology in terms of Imre Lakatos' concept of scientific research programs. She's a nonreductive physicalist: is there a soul? Sure, but it's embodied. Modern neuroscience, Anglo-American Postmodernism (Wittgenstein, MacIntyre, philosophers of science after Kuhn).

Hauerwas Stanley Hauerwas

Methodist, grew up in Texas as the son of a bricklayer. Studied at Yale, I think before George and Hans were around. Took Old Testament courses from Brevard Childs, who made him think that Ezekiel was Karl Barth. Influenced by many, influencer of many. Time magazine called him "America's Best Theologian", and he thinks that's hilarious: "Best is not a theological category." He doesn't like liberalism. At all. He does like thinking of Methodist identity in terms of being high church Mennonites or  free church Catholics. He thinks Christians should tell the truth. Virtue, narrative, church. Yoder, MacIntyre, Wittgenstein. Teaches at Duke.

lindbeck George Lindbeck

Yale School. Invented the world "postliberal". Cognitive and propositional ways of understanding religion are dumb. And he seems to think experiental and expressivist ways of understanding religions are dumber. Religions are more like cultures or languages. If you proclaim "Jesus is Lord" while striking down the infidel, you're a liar. Kuhn and Wittgenstein. Karl Barth is also a major influence of the Yale School.

frei Hans Frei

Yale School Postliberal. He's bringing narrative back. Narrative got the boot in 18th and 19th century hermeneutics. He seems to want to give historical criticism similar treatment. For a Christian, disbelief in the resurrection is rationally impossible. Karl Barth is a type 4 theologian, and you should be too.

richard-hays Richard Hays

Methodist New Testament scholar, New Perspective on Paul. Subjective genitive, Paul as interpreter of Israel's scriptures. New Testament ethics is about community, cross and new creation. Teaches at Duke.

Michael J. Gorman

New Testament, New Perspective on Paul. Studied with Bruce Metzger. Paul is the apostle of the crucified Lord. MJG, Paul and Jesus are all about cruciformity: the way of discipleship is the way of the cross, ethics is about the cross, Jesus is exercising his divinity in the cross - pretty much everything has to do with the cross. And he's right; everything does have to do with the cross. What did you have for lunch? Oh, wow, that really reminds me of the cross! He also apparently has taught adjunct at MHGS, probably before we got Badley.

Willard Swartley

Mennonite New Testament scholar. Narrative and Sabbath. Synoptic Gospels. Peace and peacemaking are major New Testament themes, and are quite a bit bigger (theologically and ethically) than merely "nonviolence".

Nicholas Lash

British Catholic theologian. Some texts, like Shakespeare's King Lear, are not to be merely read, but instead must be performed. The Bible is such a text, and the church is the group of "performers", most explicitly in the Eucharist but also in her life together. Hope is the Christian alternative to the optimism and despair (both of which claim to know too much about the future) we find in the world.

Herbert McCabe, OP

Dominican. Thomist. Wittgensteinian Marxist. But God still matters. Wanna understand the Trinity? Be filled with the Holy Spirit and look at the cross.

Most importantly, there's a chance that he may be somehow (very) distantly related to me, through my ancestor John McCabe who fled his homeland during the potato famine as a stowaway on a cattle boat, ending up in South Carolina and (several generations later) giving me reason to call myself "Cabe".

macintyre Alasdair MacIntyre

Scottish Catholic moral philosopher influenced by McCabe. Thomas Aquinas' moral philosophy brought to bear upon the moral discourse of our (post)modern world, which he argues is in grave disorder. Liberal modern individualism is the problem; a community shaped by particular narratives and practices and with a particular account of the virtues, the unity of a human life and the concept of a tradition is the answer. Taught at Notre Dame, where Hauerwas and Yoder and McClendon all found themselves in the late 1970s.

terryeagleton460 Terry Eagleton

Influenced by McCabe. Marxism for the (post-)postmodern world (This is not your father's Marxism). Sympathetic to Christianity. Likes to rip on (the new) atheists and the post-structuralists.

Thomas Kuhn

Philosopher/Historian of Science. Nancy Murphy describes him as the first to think about science in terms of holism rather than foundationalism. The Structure of Scientific Revoloutions is a widely read and influential text. Scientists assume their paradigm rather than constantly submitting it to scrutiny, and this is a good thing because it allows for normal science to do its proper work. Major changes happen through paradigm shifts or revolutions. Just read the book, it's really interesting.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Philosopher of language and other things. Hung out with the Logical Positivists in Vienna, but they didn't get along too well. Spent much of his career in England with Bertrand Russell. His Tractatus Logico Philosophicus is an exemplary text of modern philosophy. The rest of his work was published posthumously, and could be thought of as being the first philosophy to move beyond modernity. Language games. The foundation is carried by the whole house. Pictures. Lots of other things. McClendon claims he was a Christian, albeit a peculiar one.

That was kind of fun. Did that help? Who have you been influenced by?

Yoder on Christians and Democracy

I just read an outstanding lecture John Howard Yoder gave entitled "Bohold My Servant Shall Prosper." He takes his cue from Karl Barth (CD IV/2, p. 676ff), who describes the 'Order of the Community' in terms of service. From there, Yoder proceeds to apply the idea of the church as a servant community to the church's engagement in a democratic society. These were some of my favorite excerpts:

“Not only is it assumed to be the case, but it is assumed to be proper, that the position from which Christians think about systemic alternatives is one of having a weighty voice, if not a determining one, in the choices actually made. […] The patterns are so deeply established that despite themselves even many of those who in the name of liberation set out to ‘do theology from below’ tend still to make, at more points than they recognize, the assumption that the meaning of liberation would be simply for the formerly excluded to have a turn on the throne.” (154)

“Thus while holding to a pattern of rhetoric that says that the issue is whether God cares about the political realm and that the answer is yes, what actually takes place is one more form of minority witness from a position of only very modest clout. So instead of projecting the affirmation of power as good and asking who rejects it, let us begin with the affirmation of servanthood.” (155)

“Neither the position of conscientious objection nor that of conscientious involvement can be adequate if taken as a sweeping recipe. Only the insistence that both are open options, needing to be chosen situationally, can permit either to have integrity. Otherwise, the refusal becomes irresponsible or the responsibility becomes unfaithful.” (159)

“…the first question is whether we are willing to be voted down and ruled over by someone else whose understanding of divine righteousness is less clear than our own. If we are, then our democratic confession is authentic. Then our call to the democratically-elected, majority-supported people ruling over us to be more like servants and less like kings is an authentic extension of our life as church and of our Christology.” (160)

**quotes taken from John Howard Yoder, “Behold My Servant Shall Prosper”, in Karl Barth and the Problem of War and Other Essays on Barth, ed. Mark Thiessen Nation (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2003).

Yoder's words here are, I think, a helpful corrective to the political theology of Jim Wallis, Jerry Falwell, and Jurgen Moltmann (juxtaposition intentional). All of these people want to argue that the church must be engaged in politics - Christianity hopes for more than the transformation of individual lives, Christianity hopes for the transformation of the cosmos. And Yoder would agree (indeed, this is what The Politics of Jesus is about).

But Yoder also refuses to concede the proper modes of engagement in politics to those modes that have been defined as normative in our society. For instance, what you do with your vote is important, but that is a small part of politics. The conversation about where we should engage politically within the established political systems of our society is just as important as the conversation about where we should engage politically apart from the established political systems - as in the third quote above, both options need to be on the table in order to maintain a political existence that is both faithful and responsible. Repeated and unqualified affirmations of the need for Christians to be engaged politically can risk the appearance that Christians ought to pick a party (the primary accepted means of political engagement in the USA), which I think is a horrible idea. But I digress.

Above all, living as we do in a democracy where, at least at some level, we get a say in how we are governed, the church's political involvment should be shaped by this wisdom that exceeds even than JH Yoder:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45 TNIV)

Yoder on the church as a public offer to society

"...the order of the faith community constitutes a public offer to the entire society... It is not that first we set about being a proper church and then in a later move go about deciding to care prophetically for the rest of the world. To participate in the transforming process of becoming the faith community is itself to speak the prophetic word, is itself the beginning of the transformation of the cosmos." (John Howard Yoder, For the Nations, 27-28)