Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

An encounter, an invitation, a coming back to life

I'm still reading The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare and Hugh Rayment-Pickard. I'm at the chapter on atonement - the penal substitution theory of Jesus as sacrifice to an angry God, and J├╝rgen Moltmann's idea of a God who passively suffers alongside humanity - both theories are rejected. Here's what comes just after that bit; something I really liked (pp. 70-73) .......


Losing Control: The Cost of Inclusion

The claim that Jesus is divine does not begin with speculations about his metaphysical make-up, but here, with the shattering experience of the cross that he shows us what really matters and takes us to a place where we can begin to live it out. These first followers believed that Jesus reigns, invites and forgives even as he hangs on the cross. They believed it so much they refused to take part in the imperial cult, serve in its armies or play in gladiatorial circuses of cruelty. And that was a huge challenge to the violent imperial political system under which they lived, and to all the notions of religion which defined communities by sacrifice, scapegoating and exclusion.

The Christian Church that began to grow after Jesus' death only did so out of the rubble of its own attempts to control and define reality according to inherited ideas of power and purity. It bears witness to the fact that Jesus' death is inseparable from the creation of a new sort of human community. But it also bears witness to its inability to be that community, except in fragile and broken ways. It has to point beyond itself, because Jesus does not come to create a church as another in-group over and against everyone else, but to show what the whole business of being human is and can be about. If the Church is a faithful witness to Christ, it has to practise his open and inclusive fellowship and it has to recognize and celebrate the fact that people are being caught up in that commonality beyond its own limited borders and restricted imagination. Whenever the Church proclaims the Lord's death, it announces its own provisionality, and it rejoices in that. A church which asserts itself as the goal of God's mission, the definer of God's truth or the ruler of God's people is falling into the old compulsions which have always enslaved people.

Many accounts of differences in the churches seem to suggest that we have to make a choice between two basic directions. The first option is that we defend a form of Christianity which is distinctive, demanding and which stands against many of the cultural trends in our society. The second is that Christians adopt a more conciliatory approach to the surrounding world, recognizing God's presence within it, learning from it and seeking points of contact between world and Church. And it is assumed that these two approaches are mutually incompatible.

Nonsense. The inclusivness of the Church is precisely what makes it a demanding, counter-cultural presence in the world. The Church bears witness to the good news that tribalism, militarism and consumerism do not have the last word upon us, because all these forms of securing human identity are at bottom violent, grasping and anxious. The kind of community opened up by Jesus and marked with the sign of the cross offers a place for unlearning this violence and fear, and living in different kinds of personal and political relationship. If the community turns inward, if it starts proclaiming itself as the goal of salvation and the bastion of certainty, then it is turning its back on the way of Christ. It is mimicking the powers of the world, be they political, corporate or military. It is by living an inclusive and reconciling way that the Church can bear witness, with others, to the radical challenge that Jesus embodies.

The centrality of the cross makes this inescapable. The cross is a decisive break with religions of control and exclusion and purity. It is the stumbling block for all our attempts to create a God we want, whether that means a God of dominion who takes from us the responsibility and anxiety of living as free human beings, or a God of ethereal spirituality who helps us escape from the harshness of life. Dictatorships and capitalism have little to fear from such convenient deities. The crucified Jesus shows us the God who is real and inconvenient ......

So Jesus is a good man living out his teaching to the bitter end. But that teaching is not mere information or morals. It is a way of living in which we can be caught up with others and shaken enough to question and change our destructive patterns of behavior. It is not just another disciplinary voice telling us to try harder, but a way of grace into which we are invited.

Jesus is the one who shows us God's solidarity and compassion. But that only bears fruit in forms of human relationship which are empowered to resist the deadening forces of repression, poverty and division. God does not helplessly share our pain, but creates a new context for us to resist the forces that dehumanize us.

In other words, we can see the grace of God at work in the cross, but not if it is something done to us, as passive recipients. Jesus called people to lose their lives to find them, and Paul speaks of Christians sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ. Revelation is not a mechanical event 'out there' or a downloading of new information from 'up there'. It is an encounter, an invitation, a coming back to life in the company of others: he 'became what we are that he might make us what he himself is' ......



Anonymous Henry said...


Since the authors are Protestants they may not be aware of the fact that the Vat II documents demonstrate that the two approaches ARE compatible.

Hope you are well. Great picture w/your BF.


7:19 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Henry,

Thanks about the photo :)

Vatican II does seem to say that, but the present hierarchy seems also to be always going on about the secualr "culture of death".

7:26 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Hi Crystal,

I believe it was Pope John Paul the Great that coined the term in Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) - have you read the document? Moreover, Cardinal Avery Dulles in his article "Faith and Culture in the Thought of John Paul II" gives a good description of John Paul II's vision of culture.

Given the author's description of what he means by the term, can you cite some examples of why you think phrase is wrong?



8:04 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

The book says nothing about "the culture of death" - that was just my too-quick interpretation. Here's a quote from the introduction of the book whih might explain more ....

The inclusive theologian does not recognize the allegedly stark 'difference' between secular and ecclesial reasoning, and does not assume that secular thinking automatically presents a threat to theology. We do not attempt to pull rank on the world by claiming that theology is the 'queen of the sciences' or assume that theology holds all the trump cards in the debate about God. We do not use 'secular' as a lazy pejorative. In shirt, the inclusive theologian does not share the current neo-conservative paranoia about all things secular.

10:22 PM  
Blogger victor said...

Thank God for His Cross!

I could make this a long comment but I'll simply say that Jesus showed U>S the way and humanity might make on occasions a LOT of mistakes but we His Children I believe should eventually get "IT" right during eternity by simply following God's Commandments and them who try to change His Words are only hardening their hearts as to believing what we want to believe, Just Because!

I believe that Jesus took U>S all on His Cross and the ones who try to change our Heavenly Father mind, might someday find themselves not knowing why they say, "My God! My God! Why have You forsakened me" and not even have a clue as to what we even did wrong!

God Bless,


6:42 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor,

Jesus shows us the way - yes :)

7:15 PM  

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