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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Wright, N.T. (2006) Evil And the Justice of God 

God's justice is not simply a blind disposing of rewards for the virtuous and punishments for the wicked, though plenty of those are to be found on the way. God's justice is a saving, healing, restorative justice, because the God to whom justice belongs is the creator God who has yet to complete his original plan for creation, and whose justice is not simply designed to restore a balance to a world out of kilter but to bring to glorious completion and fruition the creation, teeming with life and possibility, that he made in the first place. pp36

Evil is the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God's good world of space, time and matter, and above all God's image-bearing human creatures.

Second, the supper. This was Jesus' own chosen way of expressing and explaining to his followers, then and ever since, what his death was all about. It wasn't a theory, we note, but an action (a warning to all atonement-theorists ever since, and perhaps an indication of why the church has never incorporated a specific defining clause about the atonement in its great creeds). Perhaps after all atonement is, at its deepest level, something that happens, so that to reduce it to a proposition to which one can give mental assent is a mistake at quite a deep level (for all that such propositions may be accurate signposts to the reality), something of the same kind of mistake that happens when people imagine that they can solve the problem of evil. Perhaps, in fact, it is the same mistake in a different guise ... In any case, at the supper the King shares his life with his friends and, more particularly, solemnly makes them the beneficiaries of his kingdom-bringing death. The shepherd gathers the sheep together for the last time before going off to do for them what only he can do.

This, the evangelists are saying to us, is what 'the kingdom of God' means: neither 'going to heaven when you die' nor 'a new way of ordering earthly political reality', but something which includes both but goes way beyond them. What the gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it is or why it's there, nor a set of suggestions for how we might adjust our lifestyles somewhat so that evil will mysteriously disappear from the world, but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it.

The 'problem of evil' is not simply or purely a 'cosmic' thing; it is also a problem about me. And God has dealt with that problem on the cross of his son, the Messiah. 61

According to the early Christians, what was accomplished in Jesus' death and resurrection is the foundation, the model and the guarantee for God'sultimate purpose, which is to rid the world of evil altogether and to establish his new creation of justice, beauty and peace. And it's clear from the start that this was not intended simply as a distant goal for which one was compelled to wait in passive expectation. God's future had already broken into the present in Jesus, and the church's task consisted not least of implementing that achievement and thus anticipating that future.

When C. S. Lewis wrote his famous Screwtape Letters, he suggested that there were two equal and opposite errors into which people could fall when they thought about the devil. On the one hand, they might take him or it too seriously, imagining the satan as a being equal and opposite to God or to Jesus, and to see direct satanic influence and activity behind every problem and all suffering and misfortune. That danger is still with us. Some today see much pastoral work, and indeed much practical work for the healing of nations and societies, in terms, more or less, of exorcism. Now 1 am quite sure there is a place for exorcism. Most pastors are at least aware of situations where that is appropriate. But 1 am equally sure that Lewis was right to warn against an excessive, morbid interest in the workings of the demonic, an expectation that one will encounter demons behind every tree in the garden.

The opposite error Lewis imagined was that people might sneer at or mock the very idea of the demonic. Suggest to their minds a figure in red tights, with horns and hooves and a tail, and in sniggering at that they will think they have dismissed, or even disproved, the very existence of the devil. That, 1 suspect, is behind the downplaying of references to the devil in some of our modern liturgies. Many theologians of the last century have been simply embarrassed by talk of the demonic - until, that is, some political theologians who were too left-wing to be ignored began to use that language to speak of the problems they were addressing


The Christian calling to radical holiness of life is likewise a matter of inaugurated eschatology, that is, of beginning to live in the present by the rule of what will be the case in the ultimate future. Christian ethics does not consist of a list of 'what we're allowed to do' and 'what we're not allowed to do'. It consists, rather, in the summons to live in God's new world, on the basis that idolatry and sin has been defeated at the cross and that new creation has begun at Easter - and that the entire new world based on this achievement is guaranteed by the power of the Spirit. Romans 8.12-17 thus invites Christians to live as Exodus people, not to dream of going back to the slavery in Egypt but to work hard at putting to death all that is in fact deadly, and at living the renewed life which the Spirit creates in and for those who are led by that Spirit. Among the clearest statements of this theme is Colossians 3. 1 -11: 'if you are risen with the Messiah, seek the things that are above, where he is' - which means, in very practical terms, that all the t h ings which deface human life here and now, particularly anger and bitterness on the one hand and sexual immorality on the other, must be done away with.


How can the Christian imagination be re-educated so that we can become conscious of living in between the victory achieved by Jesus and the ultimate renewal of all things? 82

When I outlined the problem of evil in chapter 1, 1 argued that it was deeper and more serious than we have usually supposed, both in our culture and in our theology. In the second chapter I laid out a way of looking at the Old Testament in which the story of Israel is presented as being itself the solution, or at least the key to the solution, of the problem of evil itself, leaving us with a story in search of an ending. Then, in chapter 3, 1 proposed a reading of the gospels, in particular the story of Jesus' death, which locates what we have traditionally thought of as 'atonement-theology' on a wider canvas, namely, the ultimate confrontation between God's plan to rescue the world from evil on the one hand and, on the other, the forces of evil themselves, both the evil regimes of Caesar, Herod and the Sadducees and the dark, accusing powers that stand behind them. Then, in the fourth chapter, I offered a way of looking at the future and imagining a world without evil, in order to see how we might conceive the Christian task in the present not in terms of waiting passively for that future to arrive but in terms of anticipating such a future world in prayer, holiness and justice in the present. This brings us now, in this fifth and final chapter, to the question which lies at the centre of it all. 'Deliver us from evil', we pray again and again in the Lord's Prayer. How will this happen, not only to us as individuals (the place where the 'problem of evil' really bites, of course, is that it's my problem, and yours, not just a big, floppy cosmic thing) but to God's world as a whole?


I now want to suggest that part of the Christian task in the present is to anticipate this eschatology, to borrow from God's future in order to change the way things are in the present, to enjoy the taste of our eventual deliverance from evil by learning how to loose the bonds of evil in the present. 96

The problem of evil ... is not soluble as it stands, not least because it tends to postulate a god other than the God revealed in Jesus Christ. When we bring the Bible into the equation, not least the gospel accounts of Jesus, the picture becomes more complicated, but also ultimately richer, and the problem becomes relocated 108

The question of evil demands a theological resolution that is mature, profound and never glib (back cover)


Friday, July 13, 2007

Claiborne, S. (2006) The Irresistible Revolution: Living As an Ordinary Radical 

But perhaps the greatest sign of hope is the emergence of a new generation of Christians eager and ready to take their faith into the world. The Christianity of private piety, affluent conformity, and only "God bless America has compromised the witness of the church while putting a new generation of Christians to sleep. Defining faith by the things you won't do or question does not create a compelling style of life. And a new generation of young people is hungry for an agenda worthy of its commitment, its energy, and its gifts.

1 would add there are many Christians who are not fulfilled in their spiritual lives because they have no sense of their gifts or purpose, and they just run to the mission field to save souls rather than transform lives and communities using their gifts and those of the people they live among.


We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, but we are to drivwe a spoke into the wheel itself" 151

www.wordandworld.org - alternative seminaries


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