U2 – Theologians of the Cross?

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Crux sola est nostra theologia.

(The cross alone is our theology.)

Martin Luther

Luther

I have very much enjoyed listening to the new U2 Album “Songs of Innocence” that was made available for free by ITunes to me and multitudes of others. I had not been, listening much to U2 in the past decade or two, and was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. I was also intrigued that they were also still writing songs that not only reflected “Christian” themes, but that this collection seemed to contain a common and “most important” theological thread. Moreover, that thread happened to be one which I have been interested in for many years, but have been studying more intensively for about a year. It is also considered by those that believe in it, to be the only “theology” true to the name “Christian.” It is called the “theology of the cross.” My own introduction to it came several years back through Alister McGrath, and the catalyst for my re-introduction and current studies was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Through Bonhoeffer I went “back” to Luther, and then “forward” to Douglas John HallGerhard O. Forde, and Michael P. Knowles. I mention all of these potentially boring details in case the reader may want to pursue the “theology of the cross” more fully (follow the links).

What is the “theology of the cross?” A brief excerpt from the four years shy of 500 yr. old document published in 1518 by Martin Luther called the “Heidelberg Disputation” will introduce it for us:

Thesis 19

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened (or have been made, created).

Thesis 20

That person deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God through suffering and the cross.

Thesis 21

A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

So why do I think that U2 are “theologians of the cross” in this new album? (Disclaimer: This theory of mine is driven solely by the lyrical content of these songs, not by any knowledge of their personal or even public lives.) I think so because of the common theological “thread” running through the songs that I can only summarize as exhibiting a “theology of the cross.” At this point, rather than belabor my theory, I’ll let brief excerpts from each song be the witnesses for the theory. In the process perhaps the content of these excerpts will further fill in what a “theology of the cross” looks like. This perhaps is a proper way to understand it, because Gerhard O. Forde says it is more precisely not a theology “about the cross” but rather a theology “of the cross.”

The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)

I was young

Not dumb

Just wishing to be blinded

By you

Brand new

And we were pilgrims on our way

 

Every Breaking Wave

Every sailor knows that the sea

Is a friend made enemy

 

California (There is No End to Love)

There’s no end to grief

That’s how I know

That’s how I know

And why I need to know that there is no end to love

 

Song for Someone

You’ve got a face not spoiled by beauty

I have some scars from where I’ve been

You’ve got eyes that see right through me

You’re not afraid of anything they’ve seen

 

Iris (Hold Me Close)

Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let me go

Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know

Hold me close, the darkness just lets us see

Who we are

I’ve got your life inside of me

 

Volcano

Your eyes were like landing lights

They used to be clearest blue

Now you don’t see so well

The future’s gonna fall on you

 

Raised by Wolves

Boy sees his father crushed under the weight

Of a cross in a passion where the passion is hate

 

Cedarwood Road

Sleepwalking down the road

Not waking from these dreams

‘Cause it’s never dead it’s still in my head

 

Sleep Like a Baby Tonight

Hope is where the door is

When the church is where the war is

 

This is Where You Can Reach Me Now

Soldier soldier

We signed our lives away

Complete surrender

The only weapon we know

 

The Troubles

God knows it’s not easy

Taking on the shape of someone else’s pain

God now you can see me

I’m naked and I’m not afraid

My body’s sacred and I’m not ashamed

In conclusion, I believe  that a lyric in “Song For Someone” provides an integrative key to the thread, subsiding all the songs under the “theology of the cross.” The song also speaks to my disclaimer at the outset regarding the status of their “real” lives. For taken at face value, this seems to be a sincere confession of faith, showing U2 does not claim to have “arrived” at some type of “perfection” (which is a theology of glory anyway) but instead merely hope that whatever their light God won’t “let it go out.”

And I’m a long long way from your Hill of Calvary

And I’m a long way from where I was and where I need to be

If there is a light you can’t always see

And there is a world we can’t always be

If there is a kiss I stole from your mouth

And there is a light, don’t let it go out

I have tried in this post to in an introductory fashion merely introduce the “theology of the cross” and the relation of U2 to it. As always, and especially if I have “left you hanging” in any way,  would happily welcome any questions or comments regarding any of the songs, other excerpts, theologians/links, or anything else related to the post. Remember, nothing ventured – nothing gained!

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity

Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” and God’s “little, near face”

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Albrecht Durer – Christ on the Cross

 

Heinrich Bornkamm was another theologian who has helped to explain Luther’s “theology of the cross.” The following rather lengthy excerpt provides a more thorough look at his theology in order to “flesh out” the message of the cross that was the subject of the previous two posts.

            The theology of the cross is not a theology which is contrived by the process of thinking. If we followed our ideas of the nature of the divine, we would probably imagine a quite different God: a great, mighty, victorious, indubitably loving, ingenious cosmic architect. . But certainly not a God who allows his messenger, whom he sends for the salvation of the world, to go down to ignominious defeat, to suffer and die innocently. It is a theology that one can derive only from an actual event, or better, that one can believe only on the basis of the passion and the cross of Christ. This was why Luther portrayed the suffering of Christ with such tremendous force. This suffering was not only a horrible physical suffering, as it was chiefly represented in medieval devotional literature in order to arouse our pity. Rather Luther took far more earnestly and consistently than did all previous theology the humanity of Jesus Christ, who suffered on the cross, not only physical pain, but also utter forsakenness and desolation. Augustine and medieval theology and mysticism fought shy of accepting the cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as a real cry of the dying Christ; they construed it merely as the intercession of Christ for his suffering body, the church. For Luther, however, it was the simple bitter truth that Christ had to endure on the cross the consciousness of being forsaken by God. He was spared none of the trial and temptation, none of the remoteness and absence of God that may be imposed upon men. Indeed, for him who came from the heart of the Gather and brought nothing but love to men, it was a more dreadful thing to bear this abandonment than for any other man. For Luther this fact that Christ had to fall into the abyss of God forsakenness and loneliness, was expressed in the Creed: “He descended into hell.” He interpreted this to mean, not an event in space, but rather this experience of utter dereliction of the soul. Nor is this experience confined to the cross; the passion is rather only the awful aggravation and consistent conclusion of the loneliness and desolation that Jesus suffered in his whole life through the deafness and opposition of men and often the misunderstanding of his own disciples. Only occasionally do the gospels mention this, and Luther commented that “if everything about Christ had been written down, we would read of many a severe affliction. He was a man who from his youth was tormented by many afflictions.” Actually he had already died in the garden of Gethsemane before he was crucified, for there he had already suffered death and desolation to the depths. On the cross all of the cross of his life was summarized.

But therefore the meaning of his life for us is also summed up in the cross. Christ’s dereliction means something deeper than the desolation of any human being could ever mean. In that dereliction he became the brother of the loneliest and most derelict of men. This is the seal upon the love of God. No starry heaven, no marvel of creation, can make us so sure of it as the fact that Christ by the will of the Father took upon himself this uttermost affliction of soul. But while he was obliged to plunge into forsakenness, he was not forsaken, but rather led by God’s strong, irresistible hand to the only place where he could become the Savior of the world, right next to all who are desolate in the bottomless hell where man left alone inevitably falls into despair.

Christ’s cross and dereliction can help us to overcome our cross and dereliction. If God’s love is hidden in the cross, then it is also our cross. There is where God seeks us most intensely, there he desires to speak to us and assure us that his power is revealed at its mightiest in our weakness. The person who has found God’s love here, on the cross, will also find it elsewhere , in the cosmos, in human love. But he who looks first for it somewhere else and not in this hidden center of divine help for the world will founder and come to grief upon the suffering and meaninglessness of life. We cannot see the face of God, but in Christ, said Luther, God gave himself a “little, near face” which we can look upon. It is a human suffering face, the face of the Crucified. But in it dwells the majesty of the love of God. (The Heart of Reformation Faith, Henirich Bornkamm, 1963, pp. 49-51)

Heinrich Bornkamm

Heinrich Bornkamm

For further study on Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” here is a link to a good 2005 article by Carl R. Trueman.

As always comments and questions are welcomed! Thanks,

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity

 

The Paradox of the Cross – Does God Play Dice with the Universe?

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Einstein once said that God “does not play dice with the universe.”

I think what he meant was that the universe is governed by unchanging laws of physics, rather than inherent randomness. Of course Einstein said this while contemplating the inherent randomness of particles evident in Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle.”

Einstein never reconciled the apparent contradiction between “macro” order and “micro” randomness. He recognized mystery in the hidden physics of the universe, but in a sense “trusted” reliable evidence and therefore concluded the “contradiction” must be a paradox, some solution must exist.

But still, many people complain that “God” seems to “play dice” with human beings, by not making everything plain to us. 

Einstein’s belief that “God” does not “play dice” related to the natural universe, but what about the moral universe? Is everything God says or does perfectly intelligible there? And if God allows or even ordains paradox, does that amount to “playing dice” or unnecessary elusiveness?

What if the most important act of God for humanity was veiled in a master paradox, so that our “natural reason” causes us to not recognize it for what it is?

But what if God also plainly tells the meaning of the paradox, and also reveals this master paradox was “crafted”? This paper will explore the “revelation” of the master paradox, but without doubt not all mysteries have been revealed. But following Einstein’s lead I think we can find enough is revealed by God to trust in the face of remaining mystery.

So what is God’s master paradox? It is the contradiction between two understandings of the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth around 30 AD in the Roman Empire. Paul wrote that,

1:18 “The word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.”

The Apostle Paul had to learn the hard way about God’s use of paradox. In fact his misunderstanding was so complete that Paul persecuted to the death those that believed “the word of the cross.” Nevertheless God chose Paul, and used him to reveal that “the cross of Christ” was God’s most important work for humankind, and also that its meaning is hidden in paradox, and that ultimately God’s love was behind the “corrective” use of paradox.

The paradox then, is that “the word of the cross” is understood either as “foolishness” or “the power of God” and how we perceive the cross of Christ indicates whether we are “perishing” or “saved.”

The paradox occurs because there is the plain appearance of what the crucifixion of Jesus was, and then there is the “explanation” given by God (in the New Testament) of what the crucifixion of Jesus “meant.” And these seem on the face of it, to be mutually exclusive points of view. So is there a solution to this “contradiction” between what Jesus’ death was and what the New Testament says it meant?

First, what would death on a cross mean in the Roman Empire? It would mean nothing more than a cruel means of execution for despised criminals or condemned slaves.

Second, what did the death of Jesus on a cross mean to Paul (and the early Christians)? They believed that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s messiah. But even Israel’s ancient scriptures seemed to be against this preposterous idea, for the law declared that any person executed and “hung on a tree” for publicly display meant that that person had been cursed by God. And yet Paul believed that Jesus was the powerful “warrior messiah” of Israel?

So here is the paradox stated more boldly: Jesus who died in utter shame and weakness, cursed by God and forsaken by men – is the messiah, the very “power” and “wisdom” of God on earth. 

Isn’t it obvious that the idea is “foolishness’?

Well, lets give Paul a hearing. After all Paul himself once believed it was foolishness, and then dramatically changed his mind.

So Paul explained that God has chosen to do things that appear to us as foolish, in order to subvert our “wisdom” that in reality is foolishness. Paul says that GOD has said he would do this:

1:19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought.

We can’t argue against this, for Israel’s scriptures plainly predict that God will do this some time. But would he choose to be “paradoxical” about “messiah?” And if so, why? Has God set us up to fail? Can’t he give us a break?

Paul in effect replies by saying “people… this is the break.” It is the break because we have tried to find God with our wisdom and have failed. And what’s worse, we then boast in that wisdom that has proven futile for knowing God. Paul wrote,

1:20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1:21 For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe.

1:27 but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong;

1:28 and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are:

1:29 that no flesh should glory before God.

Most of us would probably agree that in the main, humankind’s philosophers and religious leaders have not led us to a definitive knowledge of God. Furthermore, it seems to be the epitome of madness that a “crucified messiah”  could be the definitive action of God. The “God” that says this seems to be “playing dice” because is simply against all reason.

But Paul was thorough in communicating what was revealed to him: a deeper look at the cross and at man’s supposed “wisdom” so that God’s hidden power and wisdom can become evident. 

1:22 Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom:

1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness;

1:24 but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Many, with a religious bent, ask for signs because they want a “plain” display of God’s power. Therefore they “stumble” at the idea of the “power of God” in a crucified messiah. So their question is how can the “word of the cross” be God’s power?

Others, with a philosophical bent, seek after wisdom because if anything God must simply make sense! And it does not make sense that God, the ‘unmoved mover,’ the ‘reason’ behind all reason somehow demonstrates wisdom in this crucified man. So their question is how can the “word of the cross” be God’s wisdom?

Paul’s answer is that what the cross was, was not revealed until Jesus was resurrected from the dead showing that he was the “Lord of glory.”

2:7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory:

2:8 which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory

Paul’s provides much more detail in his many letters to the early churches explaining all that actually occurred at the cross.

The Holy Spirit revealed to Paul that these things had been God’s plan all along, actually hidden in Israel’s scriptures, veiled in mystery until then.

Oftentimes the true nature of events in life is hidden. There is the appearance, and then there is the reality. It is generally wise to suspend judgment until “all the facts” and the consequences are discovered and evaluated.

In the popular movie “Gran Torino” the story builds to the climactic confrontation between good and evil with no real hope of a favorable outcome. Walt, the cantankerous old widower played by Clint Eastwood, had gradually befriended his young immigrant neighbors that had been harassed, violently abused, and thereby controlled by a ruthless gang. After one of their most horrific ‘warning’ attacks on the sister, Walt’s young friend wanted to exact revenge for her, knowing that this would undoubtedly bring his own death. But old Walt devised a non-violent solution which also prevented the boy from killing and ensured future safety for the sister and the entire neighborhood. Walt’s wise plan was “hidden in mystery” from all and was only shown to be “powerful” after the conflict. And of course, this solution required his sacrificial death.

In the final confrontation, Walt appeared to be weak and foolish, but proved in the end to have been strong and wise. 

Driven by love for him, Walt thwarted the “wisdom” of his young friend which would have been suicidal foolishness. And driven by love, Walt “became” weakness to enact power effective for salvation.

In the end the “cycle of vengeance” was broken and justice was enabled through Walt’s self-sacrifice.

Gran Torino is fictional, but it powerfully portrays the types of realities that were operative in the cross of Jesus the Christ where utter weakness overcame death, sacrificial love overcame foolishness, so that true wisdom and salvation prevailed. Here we have barely skimmed the surface of all that transpired at the cross of Christ, but can glimpse how God worked wise and mighty wonders therein.

So does God “play dice with the universe?” No, but much is still veiled in mystery. Yet, in the cross of Christ enough is revealed so we may boast in the loving power and wisdom of God.

All scriptures are from 1 Corinthians, The American Standard Version of the Bible

Copyright 2014 by Bryan M. Christman

Thanks for reading. Comments and questions are welcomed.

 

“People… are the main spring” by King Crimson: Peer Pressure and the “Inner Ring” of C. S. Lewis

innerring

♠♣♥♦

In this song by one of the oldest, longest lived prog-rock groups, King Crimson, sings

people are the main spring
turning the world around
people, they’re the main spring
spinning this world upside down

I have used this song as a theme for this post, not only because I wanted to put a great song by them on my blog (check it out! – I wish the video quality was better but the sound is good) but because they point to the simple fact that in an important sense people are the “main spring.” I like the fact that they do not see this as a good thing, since “people” turn the world “around,” meaning, “upside down.” This post will therefore explore two aspects of this proposal, first, how people through a type of desire are the mainspring, and second, that this desire is not a good thing.

C. S. Lewis had a similar proposal, which very specifically states why this proposal is so. In his oration called “The Inner Ring” he sets forth examples of with one drawn from Victorian “society.”

Victorian fiction is full of characters who are hag-ridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society. But it must be clearly understood that “Society,” in that sense of the word, is merely one of a hundred Rings, and snobbery therefore only one form of the longing to be inside.

As you see, Lewis thought that there were many “inner rings.” For the purpose of this post, I will focus upon what I feel is the largest “inner ring” of humankind, and will apply some of his words to the idea of such a ring. For Lewis, the dynamic of human desire to belong to “inner rings” “may be dangerous,” although the phenomena of “inner rings” was “unavoidable” and “morally neutral.” “King Crimson” is itself an example of an “inner ring” as was “The Inklings” of which C. S. Lewis was himself a member.

So in this post I will concentrate on the “dangerous” desire to “belong” to an inner ring that therefore becomes an evil. But I also note that (I think) Lewis believed the degree of self-consciousness regarding this inordinate desire may vary greatly, from a nearly unconsciousness longing to that of acutely conscious obsession.

The largest ring that I propose to be that of humankind is the inner ring of “worldly acceptance.” In the old terms of Christendom, which Lewis mentions at the beginning of his oration. this was the first of the dangerous trinity called “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” In modern jargon “the world” is probably best known as “peer pressure.”

At this point I would like to raise an observation that we stubbornly individualistic humans are ironically, under peer pressure, nearly perfect conformists. I think this is illustrated by a statement of Lewis on the failure of our “skepticism.”

We are always prevented from accepting total skepticism because it can be formulated only by making a tacit exception in favour of the thought we are thinking at the moment-just as the man who warns the newcomer “Don’t trust anyone in this office” always expects you to trust him at that moment.” (Christian Reflections, “DeFutilitate”, 1967, para. 10)

It seems that the well-nigh universal “skepticism” that we wear to prevent us “being taken in” by other people, such as smooth talking politicians, salesmen, or religious fanatics, is gladly hung outside the door for the sake of our admittance to “the inner ring” of worldly acceptance. This transaction is effected by the unspoken but understood rules for “membership.” Lewis said,

When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself “we.” When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself “all the sensible people at this place.”

So this largest “inner ring” of humanity, is merely membership with the “sensible” folk that think they have not been “taken in” by those defined by its peer group as “insensible.” But the newly admitted, have actually been “taken in” by the “inner ring.” Lewis shows how this deep desire for membership works, in a strong illustration demonstrating the trumping power of the “inner ring” over other normally powerful human desires.

I wonder whether, in ages of promiscuity, many a virginity has not been lost less in obedience to Venus than in obedience to the lure of the caucus. For of course, when promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated. And as for lighter matters, the number of people who first smoked or first got drunk for a similar reason is probably very large.

The “dangerous desire” for the “inner ring” is perhaps the threshold at which the fall of Adam is re-enacted as we mature into the caucus of sensible society. Annie Dillard, in her first book, narrates how this desire is also driven by an inner insecurity of unknowing (bewilderment) that is evaded by adopting through “untaught pride” the stance of the human collective “squatter” status, and thus also “al the sensible people in this place.” For Dillard joining this “inner ring” occurs at a very early age.

I am no scientist. I explore the neighborhood. An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment. He hasn’t the faintest clue where he is, and he aims to learn. In a couple of years, what he will have learned instead is how to fake it: he’ll have the cocksure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place. Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly been set down, if we can’t learn why. (Annie Dillard, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” Bantam Books Inc: 1974, p. 12)

In this regard Lewis narrates our longing at adolescence that is another such fall by saying,

To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of “insides,” full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them.

But to enter thus, is a tragedy, as Dillard notes, and as Lewis concludes, saying

But if he follows that desire he will reach no “inside” that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction.

If the reader is familiar with C. S. Lewis, she will know that “quite another direction” is the way of following Christ. In the Gospel of John we read of a narration of the conflagration that occurred when Jesus confronted the keepers of an “inner ring” called “the synagogue.”

42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

The synagogue, with its gates kept by the Pharisees, had become “the inner ring” to which membership to, through the peer pressure of worldly acceptance of “glory that comes from man” was more loved by many than the “glory that comes from God.” It is uber-ironic that God’s Israel, as a nation, ultimately subverted Jerusalem itself into an “inner ring” by (they thought) permanently excommunicating Jesus “outside” their inner ring. The book of Hebrews shows how God made the shameful public execution of Jesus the means by which he made those excommunicated from the world’s inner ring holy, while also setting forth the example they follow “outside the camp” (or “city” or “inner ring”).

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:12-14; ESV)

In “The Last Battle,” the last volume of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Lewis has a scene in which the dwarves have become self imprisoned in their own delusional “inner ring” because they were “so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out” by Aslan himself. Their fearful skepticism fear at “being taken in” resulted in their conformity to a collective “inner ring” of blindness to the only one that could give them true freedom from being taken in by the peer pressure of worldly acceptance. The ancient wisdom in the book of Proverbs summed it up as the perennial way of  Adam the individual and Adam the collective:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (14:12)

The King Crimson song proposed that with “People” as the “mainspring” of life the world is turned upside down. C. S. Lewis proposed that this is because the “mainspring” is the “dangerous desire” for membership in “the inner ring.” Can we believe that Jesus of Nazareth showed another way “in” to an inner ring that is not based in the worldly acceptance of peer pressure? An inner ring that at the gate accepts all and excludes none but those that exclude themselves through their trust in the glory of man’s “inner ring?”

Perhaps we can believe if we consider the nature of “the glory” of man’s lesser “inner rings” that Lewis mentioned such as those at which smoking, drinking and promiscuous sex were the initiatory rites, we may see in every case some monotonous conformity as the entrance fee and permanent boundary marker of man’s “inner rings.” Lewis said

That is why the worldlings are so monotonously alike compared with the almost fantastic variety of the saints. Obedience is the road to freedom, humility the road to pleasure, unity the road to personality.

Now I admit that if we look in many places at the church today in America, we may unfortunately find monotonous alikeness rather than fantastical variety. The church is also always in danger of falling, as did Israel of old, into its own “inner ring” rather than Christ’s inner ring in which he alone is the head. This has become a slight digression, but for clarification I’ll mention that Paul told the Church in Rome to be careful in attitude toward “national” Israel that had fallen, lest she fall to the same temptation that as we saw was a type of “unbelief” that was formed by pride in “inner ring” status.

19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (Romans 11:19-23 ESV)

To return from  this digression, I would like to conclude with an excerpt from lewis that demonstrates that the Church, though always falling short of a pure participation in the inner ring of Christ, is meant nonetheless to be thus participating. Lewis says

It was not for societies or states that Christ died, but for men. In that sense Christianity must seem to secular collectivists to involve an almost frantic assertion of individuality. But then it is not the individual as such who will share Christ’s victory over death. We shall share the victory by being in the Victor. A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. That is just how Christianity cuts across the antithesis between individualism and collectivism. There lies the maddening ambiguity of our faith as it must appear to outsiders. It sets our face relentlessly against our natural individualism; on the other hand, it gives back to those who abandon individualism an eternal possession of their own personal being, even of their bodies. As mere biological entities, each with its separate will to live and to expand, we are apparently of no account; we are cross-fodder. But as organs in the body of Christ, as stones and pillars in the temple we are assured of our eternal self-identity and shall live to remember the galaxies as an old tale.

Note once again the book of Hebrews’ exhortation to join Christ “outside” man’s “inner ring,” leaving the “camp” that is not “lasting,” and seeking the city “that is to come.”

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

It is a city inhabited by individuals, its gates are open to all to come as they are, being sanctified not by admission to the “peer group,” but by the blood of the one that gave his life to save them.

Thanks for reading, and as always I’d like to know what you think!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Ezekiel’s vision of the ultimate iconoclast

In my last post I introduced Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s “Tarkus” as a point of contact to the biblical truth that God is the ultimate iconoclast. I didn’t specifically detail the strange part-animal part-mobile machine which was Tarkus. Here we will briefly consider whether this strange being called Tarkus is in its essence conceived as being equipped for iconoclastic battle.

But before that, some backstory that should help explain why I’m even thinking this about “Tarkus.” I have recently been reading the book Ezekiel and decided to search to find whether anyone had created any visual depictions of the vision of God’s cloud chariot/throne, because I have always had trouble putting all the elements together into a cohesive whole. I discovered what seems to be a well done depiction which is the video posted above.

After watching it, and returning to thoughts about the “Tarkus” post, I realized that there were some common elements between the being called Tarkus and Ezekiel’s vision of God. These common elements include the presence of a mix of natural and mechanical qualities, and the overall abilities of mobility plus destructive power. Certainly there are also many differences, and I only point out the more basic elementary correspondences to further speculate concerning the intentions of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. In summary, given the iconoclastic theme I mentioned in the first post, and the visual nature of Tarkus, it seems we have either an absurdly strange coincidence or an intentional thematic borrowing. Probably only ELP know the answer to this question.

Moving on to their possible source, in this post want to further explore Ezekiel’s vision of God as “the ultimate iconoclast.” In the previous post was a quote where Douglas Wilson, with the prophet Ezekiel in mind,  described God in this way. To illustrate Wilson’s title, I would like to present a few brief excerpts from an insightful commentaty on Ezekiel by Iain M. Duguid.

Duguid

 

The youtube video at the head of this post helps us “picture” Ezekiel’s ultimate iconoclast.

The book excerpts help show that Ezekiel’s vision differs from other earlier biblical visions of God and thus provide the biblical context revealing how in Ezekiel God was readying to undertake his iconoclastic work against (and for) Israel. Iain M. Duguid writes,

In the context of this popular Zion theology, it is easy to see the difficulty that Ezekiel’s earlier contemporary Jeremiah faced. He was called to oppose the complacency of those who kept repeating, “The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD” (Jer. 7:4). His prophecies of judgment against Jerusalem were interpreted as high treason because they struck at the heart of this belief (Jer. 26:11) The tempe itself had become viewed as an amulet, a lucky charm to ward off evil. In response, Jeremiah simply pointed to the lessons of history. In the past, in the days of Samuel’s youth, Israel had placed the same kind of faith in the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence, instead of in the reality of God’s presence. The result had been the destruction of Shiloh and the “exile” of the ark..”Glory has gone into exile from israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

It was this same false perception of safety that Ezekiel’s vision challenged. Two kinds of imagery dominate the opening vision of Ezekiel: images of motion and judgment. In contrast to Isaiah’s static temple imagery, Ezekiel’s vision is filled with movement. Whereas Isaiah saw the Lord seated in the temple, Ezekiel’s vision opens with the Lord in the midst of a motion-filled “windstorm” in the land of the exiles. God is not dead or sleeping, nor is he restricted to the temple, he is living and active and on the move. The Lion of Judah is restless. In general, such a depiction of the Lord’s coming to intervene in the lives of his people would be a positive development. However, in this case God’s activity does not bode well for the temple or for Jerusalem. It is only a short step from Ezekiel 1, where the glory of God is in motion, to Ezekiel 10, where the glory of God abandons the temple, leaving it defenseless against the Babylonian invaders.

The true and living God is not a tame God. He cannot be comfortably manipulated into a box and made to do our bidding. If he were, he would hardly be worthy of following. God’s radical freedom, bound only by his own self-revelation, means that his ways can never be reduced to a pat formula or a trite slogan. If his people abandon him, he may abandon them and fight against them. A lady reportedly asked Abraham Lincoln during the dark days of the civil war if he was confident that God was on their side. “Madam,” he is said to have replied, “I am less concerned whether God is on our side than whether we are on his side.”

Hopefully these excerpts have conveyed to the reader what and why the iconoclastic work of God is. That God assumes the role of iconoclast is a recurrent biblical event, because God’s chosen people Israel were prone, as were and are all human beings, to making idols.

Thus moving into what is now called the common era, Jesus of Nazareth essentially engaged in the same iconoclastic work, even specifically regarding the rebuilt temple, and was a major reason for the conspiracy that led to his crucifixion under Rome. The opposing religious leaders could not see that Herod’s “second temple” in Jerusalem was meant to be replaced by a temple not made with hands, namely a “temple” of people of all races and ethnicities in which the Spirit of God would then indwell. That Jesus did not merely point toward God the iconoclast, but actually embodied him as the ultimate iconoclast reveals many things. Probably the most important thing it reveals is that his death instigated at the hands of the anti-iconoclasts became by God’s power the ultimate iconoclastic victory for the freedom of humanity.

Isaiah 2:17-19English Standard Version (ESV)

17 And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
18 And the idols shall utterly pass away.
19 And people shall enter the caves of the rocks
and the holes of the ground,
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the splendor of his majesty,
when he rises to terrify the earth.

Comments and questions, are always welcomed!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

“Iconoclast” – Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Tarkus”

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s 20 minute long 1971 prog-rock work “Tarkus,” contains one instrumental part called “iconoclast,” which along with some of the words from the lyrical parts seems to hint at a theme of iconoclasm. One lyric says

“…are your ears full, you can’t hear anything at all”

This ending of this lyrical part seems to show that “idols” tend to render their “worshippers” deaf to learning truth apart from their idolatrous belief “system.” I have of late been reading a current book by a Christian theologian in which he assumes the role of an iconoclast of sorts against what he sees as misguided “self-assured ecclesiastical assumptions” that have become veritable idols. Several brief quotes from the book are are below, following a few definitions of “iconoclast.” The first one is from google:

i·con·o·clast/īˈkänəˌklast/
noun
a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions.
a destroyer of images used in religious worship, in particular.

The second one is from Ambrose Bierce, who along with Mark Twain was one of the main non-religious iconoclasts of that period.

Iconoclast, n. A breaker of idols, the worshipers whereof are imperfectly gratified by the performance, and most strenuously protest that he unbuildeth but doth not reëdify, that he pulleth down but pileth not up. For the poor things would have other idols in place of those he thwacketh upon the mazzard and dispelleth. But the iconoclast saith: “Ye shall have none at all, for ye need them not; and if the rebuilder fooleth round hereabout, behold I will depress the head of him and sit thereon till he squawk it.” (Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary” 1906.)

Naturally and logically, an iconoclast would be “unemployed” if it were not for human idol factories. Here are several quotes about this:

From this we may gather that man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion I:XI.8

In short, there is absolutely nothing that God can give us that we are incapable of turning into an idol… So it is no sacrilege to be “against the church.” God is the ultimate iconoclast, and God told His angels to begin at His sanctuary, and he told them to get in there and defile it. That he had a higher purpose in mind can be seen elsewhere in the book of the prophet (Ezekiel). (Douglas Wilson, “Against the Church” 2013.)

Jesus of Nazareth certainly took on the role of the ultimate iconoclast against the belief system of the religious establishment of his day. These religious leaders ironically epitomized the lyric in Tarkus with their ears so “full” of their religious system that they could not “hear anything at all” of the words of Jesus the “Word of God” (see John 1:1-14). Using a sight metaphor rather than a hearing metaphor, Jesus said this to them:

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. (John 9:39-41; English Standard Version)

What the iconoclastic endeavors of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, have in common with Ambrose Bierce, Douglas Wilson, or Jesus of Nazareth is impossible to know, due to the obscurity of the lyrics. But it is interesting to wonder about their intentions as we listen to the song and hear the lyrics. It is also an interesting merely as a fairly epic early 70’s prog-rock song, complete with comic book style scenes of the adventures of “Tarkus.”

Tarkus2

I was reluctant to mix apocalyptic/comic book sci-fi fantasy/progessive-rock music, with such a serious subject as biblical/historical iconoclastic “battles.” But I couldn’t resist letting “Tarkus” be an interesting contact point between we “idol factory” humans and God who in love is our ultimate iconoclast.

I welcome any comments! Thanks…

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Jack Bruce’s “We’re Going Wrong”: Open-mindedness and the way forward

open_mind

Please open your eyes
Try to realize
I found out today we’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

Please open your mind
See what you can find
I found out today we’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

We’re going wrong
We’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

by Jack Bruce, 1967

“I found out today” that Jack Bruce had passed away. My thoughts naturally turned to my favorite song written by him, a  song that to me displays a surprisingly disproportionate combination of lyrical brevity and emotive power. So this post is in part a tribute to Jack Bruce and his song that i’ve enjoyed on several levels, but mainly an exploration of the possible meaning of the song.

Without knowing any personal context of Jack Bruce that may be behind the song, I’m left to begin with the historical context in which the song appeared: 1967. The sixties was, if anything, a calling being issued from many voices to “open our eyes” individually and collectively. It had become manifestly apparent to many that something had gone wrong in western civilization. Many thought we were on the verge of some type of  imminent conflagration based on factors including but not limited to war (hot or cold), prejudice, poverty, pollution, population, politics, and technology.

The call to open our eyes was a hope that we could be spared the destruction, to void the looming threat that “the gods first blind those whom they wish to destroy.” Perhaps a critical mass of opened eyes could counter the coming apocalypse. (Can it do so today?)

But for the time being, this truth and perhaps this alone, seemed apparent to the counterculture: “We’re Going Wrong.”

Of course, “open eyes” really only means “open minds” which Jack Bruce made explicit. But what does it mean to have an open mind? At that time it seemed to mean to many or most in the counterculture that we must abandon the very concept of universal/dogmatic truth which had merely enslaved humankind through false authority. Thus open-mindedness seemed to morph into broad-mindedness in which there is no ultimate truth, only individualistic “working truths” (whatever works for me/you).

The prince of wit G.K. Chesterton warned that,

The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be any such thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas…

…When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded. (from Heretics, chapter 20)

It seems probable that this “modern notion” of mental growth resulted in the sixties revolution being more destructive than constructive, in regard to any real progress toward “going right.”

If the counterculture was a failure in this regard, then it is natural to wonder why, unless destruction actually was the goal, and it is true that destruction (or discrediting) of what is false is necessary. But it seems more likely that the problem of failure is to be found deep in humankind itself, namely that we are a species prone to error.

To support this suggestion I’d like to look at a few ancient proverbs from the “New Living Translation” of the Bible. Here is the first:

Proverbs 14:1 A wise woman builds her home,
but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.

I do not think that this is meant to say that the difference between the wise and foolish woman is one of intention. I do not think the “foolish woman” intends to tear down her house. She intends to build it, but being “foolish” does not know how to succeed. And she is like all of us, inasmuch as we all intend to succeed. Blaise Pascal said this about the intention of all people:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves. (Pensees, #425)

The second proverb says,

Proverbs 14:12 There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.

This explains a simple fact, that we are all prone to err, with dire consequences. It is not our intention to die, but it is the consequence of self-direction. The prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.
We are not able to plan our own course.

So to return to the first proverb, the wise woman is one that directs her steps according to the direction of God. This all means that the only positive answer to “We’re Going Wrong” is what is called “repentance.” In other words, the way ahead is to turn around. This is not an easy task. We all hate to be lost, to have to backtrack, to cut our losses of lost time and effort often spent with blood, sweat and tears. I think that the wise and foolish women both knew “blood, sweat, and tears” in their quest to build their house, but tragically only one was building while the other was tearing down.

C.S. Lewis knew how difficult it is for us to repent, due to our mistaken view of progress created by our aversion to being wrong.

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man…There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on. (from “Mere Christianity,” chapter 5, 2nd paragraph)

Now a perceptive reader will note that believing that “We’re Going Wrong” may be difficult, but it is the easy part. The truly difficult part is where to go to “go right.” If it is true that the way that “seems right to us ends in death” and that we “are not able to plan our course,” then where shall we go? And it is precisely here that Jack Bruce left us, halfway turned around on our path to who knows where.

But it is here that God, with something called “good news” (gospel) creates a real turnaround by providing the ultimate destination. But I’m not merely talking about the notion that most of us have of “heaven.” I’ll let a few theological excerpts present gospel to us, and perhaps we will find two things. First, that we have not known the way “forward.” Second, that the good news of God’s destination will impel us forward.

The first theologian speaks of the “destination” in broad terms, given in terms applicable to all times and places.

Regeneration  is a state of things universally. It is the new state of things, the new eon, which the Christ brought; the individual “enters it,” and in so doing he himself participates in it and is reborn through participation in it. The message of conversion is, first, the message of a new reality to which one is asked to turn; in the light of it, one is to move away from the old reality, the state of existential estrangement in which one has lived. (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology Volume 2 “Existence and the Christ” p. 177)

The second theologian speaks of the “destination” in narrow terms, and is provided because God’s announcement of “good news” meets us all in the midst of or own specific life setting. This provides some concrete illustrations of what conversion may entail.

To begin anew meant, to Bonhoeffer to pass through a process of becoming aware of and avowing guilt, of repenting, of doing real penance, and of seeking for new foundations of living together beyond nihilism. But to begin anew also meant to grapple with and clarify the concrete experiences with people under the Hitler regime. And these were, in the majority, experiences of failure, of lack of civil courage, of thoughtless complicity, of lies violating one’s own conscience, of shutting ones eyes to obvious injustice, and of lack of concern about the suffering of others, whether because of fear or because of a narrowed range of perception. He deemed all of this possible only in a situation where people no longer felt urged, by a vital knowledge about the mission and meaning of their lives, to accept responsibility, but would accept, in thoughtless subordination the dictate of their superiors that the meaning of life lies in blind obedience. (Heinz Eduard Todt, “Authentic Faith – Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context,” p. 21)

Now that is an example of an opening of the eyes and mind that surely even surpasses that hoped for by the most well meaning “counterculturist.” For the truth is that the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom to “put the world to rights” also needed to include the provision of forgiveness for we humans that would rather mankind’s Savior be crucified in order to preserve our chosen self-direction, even our “countercultural” self-direction.

Could a “just” God merely “wink” at such murderous treason from his creation as though it was nothing? Bonhoeffer shows that the answer for all, especially for any that would like to follow him anew, is shown in that very place where Christ died:

Jesus died on the cross alone. abandoned by his disciples. It was not two of his faithful followers who hung beside him but two murderers. But they all stood beneath the cross: enemies and the faithful, doubters and the fearful, the scornful and the converted, and all of them and their sin were included in this hour in Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness. God’s merciful love lives in the midst of its foes. It is the same Jesus Christ who by grace calls us to follow him and whose grace saves the thief on the cross in his last hour. (from “Discipleship,” Works Vol. 4, p. 40)

Thoughts, questions, kindly criticisms are welcomed. Thanks for your interest!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.