Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Augustine’s Confession of Created Time

As I was helping someone with a current research project, I came across this essay that I wrote about a year ago. I enjoyed reading back through it so much that I thought I would share. It is a long one, but I would love to hear any comments others might have on this Subject.

Augustine’s Confession of Created Time:
Time and Eternity in the Confessions

What is time? Who can explain this easily and briefly? Who can comprehend this in thought so as to articulate the answer in words? Yet what do we speak of, in our familiar everyday conversation, more than of time? We surely know what we mean when we speak of it. We also know what is meant when we hear someone else talking about it. What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain to an inquirer, I do not know.[1]

This popular quote from Augustine’s Confessions should give some intimation of the immensely difficult task set before us. The position a theologian takes on the topic of time and divine eternity has a kind of controlling effect on his or her entire theological vision.[2] It is my contention that this is certainly the case for Augustine. His perception of time and eternity, as expressed in Book XI of the Confessions, has immense implications upon the rest of his theological articulation, and thus influences the whole of Western theological reflection. It is important that we Western Christians, who find ourselves in Augustine’s shadow, have some, albeit limited, understanding of his conception on this point.

It will be my attempt in this brief essay to elucidate, as far as it is possible within the confines of this paper and my own finite understanding, Augustine’s notion of time and eternity as reflected in his Confessions. I will begin by giving some background into his philosophical and contextual influences. A summation of his exploration on this subject in the Confessions will follow. Finally, I will give a concise assessment of the adequacy of Augustine’s notion for contemporary theological reflection and attempt to point forward as we continue to wrestle with the mystery of time and eternity in relation to divine revelation.


It is helpful to begin with some general background information both on Augustine’s contextual influences for his particular way of viewing this subject and on broader theological / philosophical reflections concerning time and eternity. His impetus for developing this particular text seems to have been two fold. It was in some sense written as an attempt to respond to critics both inside and outside of the Catholic community, as to the legitimacy of his conversion and his installation as the Bishop of Hippo. It was also written at the behest of a multi-millionaire convert to Christianity, Paulinus of Nola. He was introduced to the writing of Augustine via Alypius, a close companion of the African Father, who was then the Bishop of Thagaste.[3] “The work was written during the last three years of the fourth century AD by a man in his mid-forties, recently made a bishop, needing to come to terms with a past in which numerous enemies and critics showed an unhealthy interest.”[4] We must keep this context and proposed motivation in mind when reflecting on the Confessions as a whole or on any of its subsequent parts.

Within the text itself, which is generally written in some autobiographical style, there is a significant transition from Book X on. In this latter section Augustine is no longer talking about his past, but is focused on giving some clarification of his current state of mind as the new bishop. Ironically, this concrete Christian context of ministry results in an extremely Neo-platonic philosophical excursus. While it is important to remember the context of this discussion, it is also evident that the views expressed in Book XI on time and eternity are central to Augustine’s theological vision and remain relatively consistent regardless of his contextually conditioned responses.[5]

For this particular subject matter we should include a sweeping understanding of the philosophical discussion concerning time that impacted Augustine’s intellectual framework. There are significant allusions to Plato, Aristotle, Porphyry, and Plotinus running throughout this particular reflection. Of these his most important influence is, not surprisingly, the Neo-platonic philosophy of Plotinus. Yet, even in his understanding of time Augustine differs from Plotinus in significant ways, which we will have occasion to investigate further on in this essay. Here it is imperative that we summarily explore the three principle philosophical figures, Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, and their considerations on the subject matter at hand.[6]

There is a concern present in all of these thinkers between static and dynamic conceptions of time, eternity and the relationship between the two. In Plato’s Timaeus, time is subject to change, but it is actually created to mimic the changeless. The world soul infuses and envelopes the universe; and this presence of soul is prior to the creation of time. The demi-urgos, as Plato tells the story, rejoicing in the moving, living world creature which he has made in the image of the eternal gods, determines to improve the copy of the original. As far as it is possible, he seeks to make the universe eternal.

However, the eternal nature of the ideal being cannot be given in its fullness to something created. Therefore, he decides to make a ‘moving image of eternity’ (37d).[7] When the demiurge ordered the heavens, he made an image of the eternal, but the image moves according to number, while eternity itself rests in unity. This image of eternity that moves according to number we call time. His conceptuality of time and eternity generally reflects his dualism between form and matter or the intelligible and the sensible worlds, the former being static and the latter being dynamic. Yet, for Plato the relationship of time with eternity is positive because it brings order, predictability, and permanence to unruly matter.

In Book IV of the Physics, Aristotle relates the reality of time to motion (change) and measurement. Time is not itself movement, but it does not exist independent of movement. It is the ‘now’ involved in numbering and dividing motion. His is sometimes referred to as the receptacle view, as time ‘contains’ objects and events. He goes on to describe what it is to ‘be in time.’ “To ‘be in time’ means either to exist when time exists or ‘to be contained by time as things in place are contained by place.’[8] This gives objective reality to time, but Augustine sees this definition of “being in time” as inadequate for understanding what it is to be a self in time. Some of the dimensions between mind and time are not captured, from Augustine’s perspective, in the Aristotelian picture.[9]

It is Plotinus who gives him a basis for contemplating the self-conscious mind’s relation to time. In the Enneads, Plotinus is quite critical of the Aristotelian definition of time as the measurement of motion. “It comes to this: we ask ‘What is time?’ and we are answered ‘Time is the extension of Movement in Time.’”[10] He was convinced that time must be something more than the mere number of movement. Some of Plotinus’ criticisms were likely based on a poor characterization of Aristotle’s idea of time; however, his substantive rejection was certainly valid. This rejection was based upon concerns that Aristotle did not explicitly address, namely the relationship between time and the soul.

For Plotinus time depends on the soul in a metaphysical way that makes physical movement itself a result of the soul.[11] The soul is not an external measurer of the soulless substratum of time, but is rather manifested in movement itself. Time is in some sense ‘in’ the soul or at least a direct result of the soul’s movement. “It is we that must create Time out of the concept and nature of progressive derivation, which remained latent in the Divine Beings.”[12] The soul’s attempt to mimic the eternal results in the creation of time.

In contrast to its positive portrayal in Plato, the idea of mimicry in Plotinus’ thought is dark and destructive. His emphasis is on mutability instead of stability. Time is described as the mimic of eternity in that it ‘seeks to break up in its fragmentary flight the permanence of its exemplar.’[13] Time as a mimic destroys what it seizes. We all participate in the world soul, which going outside of itself, lays aside its eternity and is clothed with time. Time, then, is an unfolding and fragmenting of the soul, which is held in contrast to the rest and unity of the One. The time of the cosmos imitates the movement of the soul, just as the soul imitates the eternal.[14] We will see these themes reoccur in Augustine, but we will also note in what ways he differs from even these perspectives of time.

Our understanding of time is intimately related to our conception of eternity. The three definitions of eternity proposed by Alan Padgett is a helpful framework as we move into Augustine’s discussion of this subject. [15] The idea of eternity that is most evident in the Scriptural witness is that of ‘everlastingness.’ This is the proposal that something is eternal because it always has and always will exist. Nothing exists outside of time, but the eternal is an infinite duration of time. Therefore, that which exists eternally may change as long as it continues to exist and its essence or substance, so to speak, remains the same. The contrasting image is that of ‘absolute timelessness.’ This particular perspective proposes that eternity is that which transcends time, in the sense that past, present and future are simultaneously present in eternity.[16] The mediating position proposed by Padgett is that of ‘relative timelessness.’ From this perspective, God transcends our measured time but is also, in some sense, closely related to time. It is not that God is ‘in’ our time; rather we should say that we are ‘in’ God’s time. The Triune God is the creator of time and space and freely enters into the time He created, but is not subject to time. We must ultimately confess our ignorance on what the Infinite and Eternal One is in himself, we look through a clouded glass and only catch glimpses through His gracious self-revealing.[17] We must now turn to what Augustine has to say about the glimpses.

Augustine’s Confessions of Time and Eternity:[18]

Augustine continually confesses that the God he is praying to transcends time. He begins with the recognition that God’s vision of occurrences in time is not temporally conditioned. This conceptuality in Augustine’s theology is firmly rooted in his unequivocal affirmation of the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. God is the creator of all things and time is included in the created realm; therefore, time is not a part of the uncreated realm. This reflects the essential dualism that runs throughout Augustine’s thought between the mundus intelligibilis and the mundus sensibilis. However, it is not a complete reflection of this particular duality, since, for Augustine, even the intelligible world is a part of the created realm and is subject to time and change.[19] In fact, it is in the intelligible world that we come to understand time, for it is in the memory, the mind, the soul that “time” actually exists. Yet, there is here also a duality between the eternal realm and the created realm and for Augustine time belongs only to the latter. Thus, he affirms some form of timeless eternity.

Movement and change, fire and flux, and various other ways of talking about mutability are all closely connected to creation, which is quite distinct from the immutable God. Augustine proclaims that heaven and earth cry aloud that they were made, since they suffer change and variation. “But,” he says, “in anything which is not made yet is, there is nothing which previously was not present.”[20] There is an absolute presence in eternity, which is to say that all things are simultaneously present in the eternal now. Time is obviously a part of creation because it is connected to change, but God does not change. “And so by the Word coeternal with yourself, you say all that you say in the simultaneity of eternity, and whatever you say will come about does come about. You do not cause it to exist other than by speaking. Yet not all that you cause to exist by speaking is made in simultaneity and eternity.”[21]

Nothing corresponding to our human experience offers us any real help in understanding the mystery of a timeless eternity. Presence is the closest experience that we have to guide us. Therefore, Augustine uses the language of today to speak of eternity. As he proclaims,

“all your years subsist in simultaneity because they do not change—your ‘years’ are ‘one day’ (Ps 89:4, 2 Pet. 3:8) and your ‘day’ is Today—Your Today is eternity ‘Today I have begotten you.’ (Ps 2:7, Heb 5:5). You created all times—there was not any time when time did not exist; therefore, time is not permanent.”[22]
We are then faced with the compounding difficulty of responding to questions which arise out of a different conception of eternity. The primary question of this kind that Augustine mentions is, “What was God doing before he made the heavens and the earth?” Though, Augustine seems to be a bit perturbed by this particular question, he says that he rejects the trite response, “He was preparing hell for people who inquire into such profundities.” He would rather answer, “I am ignorant of what I do not know” instead of ridiculing someone who has deep questions.[23] Yet, he goes on to say that these people are full of errors. First, they believe that God’s will belongs to his very substance. They suggest that either God has changed if He has willed something that did not previously exist or if He has willed creation from all eternity then we should assume creation is eternal. Secondly, they do not think of eternity as that which transcends time. His conception of eternity implies that it is improper to speak of a “then” before the creation because temporal language does not correspond to eternity. There was no “then” before creation. We come to the limits of our human knowledge and must remain apophatic at this point.

Returning to the question of time, he begins to inquire into how we should think about and measure time. He offers an atomic description of time in the sense of dividing time into infinitesimal, instantaneous moments that we call the present. In this, he ends up quite close to the Skeptics and Academics, with present moments that have no duration and take up no space. Given the near non-existence of these present moments and the actual non-existence of “past” and “future,” how do we measure time? With this academic understanding in the background, he is perplexed by our existential experience of longer and shorter periods of time. He comes to the conclusion that the locus of past and present, at least what we call past and present, is in the memory. He then suggests that we shouldn’t speak of past, present and future, but rather the present of things past, the present of things present, and the present of things to come. In this our language is inexact, but what we mean is communicated.[24]

He continues to explore the question of how we measure time. Plato’s Timaeus and St. Basil proposed that the movement of sun, moon, and stars constitutes time and the measure of time. Augustine rejects this notion because there is witness in the biblical narrative when the sun stood still. (Josh 10:12ff) Yet, we do say that no body can move except in time. When we measure the time of motion it is measured in the mind. Augustine says, “the impression which passing events make upon you abides when they are gone…present consciousness is what I’m measuring, this is what time is.”[25] Long past is simply a long memory of the past. Future is more complex, but it is similar to reciting a well known Psalm. It exists in the mind before it comes into present existence and passes into memory, and so it extends in two directions.

The pinnacle of his argument is that time, rather than being an ‘objective’ feature of the world, is a distention of the soul. This psychological view of time clearly fits with the narrative self-exploration of the Confessions. The focus in on the existential experience of ‘being in time’. And it is through self-reflection that he turns away from changeable things to the eternal and unchanging One. “Times destructive flight into non-existence is countered by the act of memory. Having found in his own soul the act of attention that approximates in its all encompassing presence the ‘standing present’ of eternity, he will now be free to love the changeable and mortal things in God, who is never lost”[26] Memory and internal reflection, then, yields the clue to the idea of time and eternity.

This psychologizing of time aims to secure the reality of time and to resolve puzzles of its measurement. However, he also offers up an eschatological understanding of the relationship between time and eternity. We live in time and multiplicity, distracted by many things, which is in contrast to the unity of eternity. In response Augustine says, “I am scattered in times whose order I do not understand…until that day when, purified and molten by the fire of your love, I flow together to merge into you…then I shall find stability and solidity in you.”[27] We are still left with many questions as to what it means for the created being to exist in the simultaneity of eternity, but this is the vision offered. We remain in the realm of paradox and mystery, but have enough knowledge to engage in meaningful conversation.

Is Augustine’s an Adequate Christian Conception of Time?

It is quite possible to conclude at this point that Augustine's understanding of time and eternity is primarily rooted in the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, as well as his abstract philosophical reasoning. Stephen Hawking speaks of ‘the fallacy, pointed out by St. Augustine, of imagining God as a being existing in time: time is a property only of the universe that God created.’[28] While we firmly agree with Augustine's confession that God transcends time, we must also recognize that his timeless understanding of God offers a very other worldly theology, which comes dangerously close to his Neo-platonic influences. He goes so far as to introduce the idea of “seminal causes” to deal with the problem of whether creation was made all at once or made in successive stages. His thinking on this point closely resembles the logoi spermatikoi of the Stoics or the “seminal reason” in Neo-Platonism that suggests God created all the principles of development at once, which would only mature later and produce all things that would exist.[29] We quickly find ourselves in terrain that we do not want to traverse.

We continue to stumble over the relationship of the timelessly eternal God with His temporally conditioned creation. We also struggle with his static conception of eternity and God which seems to contradict the dynamic language of Scripture. It is right that we affirm, with Augustine, that God transcends time and the created order, but we must be careful not to bifurcate being and action through a dualistic cast of mind. Unfortunately Augustine's dualism predominates his thinking on time and permeates much of his theology. He fails to grasp the implications of the Incarnation for time and eternity. Instead, he ends up with a philosophical construal of time and eternity tainted by Neo-platonism.

Predestination and determinism are related to this dualism of time and eternity. Mark Ellingsen recognizes this, but proposes that Augustine’s understanding of the simultaneity of eternity gives us a clue as to how we can reconcile human free will and predestination. Since God’s foreknowledge of our action and His decision are simultaneous, predestination does not eliminate free human choice.[30] While I understand and appreciate Ellingsen's overall argument, I don’t find this sort of thinking all that helpful. Yet, the alternative attempt to infer time back into God’s eternity or to say that God is somehow bound by time is also theologically unsatisfying. This perspective, represented in some ways by "Open Theism," fails to take into consideration a Biblical pneumatology which affirms God’s continued relationship with creation through the Spirit. “Determinism is accordingly best avoided not by reading time back into God but by focusing on the action of the Spirit who is the giver of freedom and the one who enables the created order to be itself: to become what it was created to be.”[31] This phrase “what it was created to be” also implies a teleological or eschatological dimension.

Augustine’s dualism between time and eternity renders all kinds of problems for Christian eschatology. How are we to imagine eternal life if time has always been an aspect of the created order? A distinction has been made between the eternity of the heavens and eternity which belongs only to God. “Earthly time is the chronological time of becoming and passing away; heavenly time is the aeonic time of a relative eternity; the eternity of God is unique.”[32] If eternal life is an undisturbed participation in the living God, then eschatological eternity is aeonic time. We may speak both of God’s complete transcendence of time and eschatological relative eternity for creation.

Augustine’s confession of created time is helpful in so far as it uncovers a deeper understanding of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. However, we ultimately must depart from him in search of a Christocentric and Trinitarian language for time and eternity. We must leave behind his distinctive dualism and instead affirm a relational theological framework. Moreover, the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ must be central to our understanding of eternal God’s interaction with His temporal creation. “Thus while the Incarnation does not mean that God is limited by space and time, it asserts the reality of space and time for God in the actuality of His relations with us, and at the same time binds us to space and time in all our relations with Him.”[33]

[1] Saint Augustine, Confessions, (New York: Oxford University Press 1998), p. 230. One could also possibly build a case that there is some resonance between Augustine’s reflection on the knowledge and articulation of time and Michael Polanyi’s epistemological conception of ‘tacit knowledge,’ which basically affirms we know much more than we are able to articulate.
[2] Alan G. Padgett, God, Eternity and the Nature of Time, (New York: St. Martin’s Press 1992), p. 1
[3] It seems that Alypius was attempting to encourage the generous giving in Paulinus’ life following his conversion, and hoped he might support some of the ascetic foundations in the region. He sent him some of Augustine’s polemical writings against the Manicheans. This piqued Paulinus’ interest who then asked for a autobiography detailing how Augustine had come to accept the ascetic life. This information comes from the introduction to the Confessions by Henry Chadwick, pp. xii-xiii
[4] Ibid, p. xiii
[5] While Mark Ellingsen’s thesis about the pastoral and contextual shape of Augustine’s theology is quite helpful, this is one area of his thought that seems to remain consistent regardless of his contextual concerns, though it doesn’t play as prominent a role in some conversations as it does in others.
[6] The summary that follows is primarily based upon Genevieve Lloyd’s article “Augustine and the ‘Problem’ of Time,” Ch. 3 in The Augustinian Tradition, ed. Gareth B. Matthews, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1999) pp. 39-60
[7] Ibid, p. 49
[8] Ibid, p. 47
[9] Ibid, p. 48
[10] Plotinus, Enneads 3.7.8, quoted in Lloyd, p. 48
[11] Lloyd, p. 49
[12] Enneads 3.7.11
[13] Lloyd, p. 49
[14] The idea of emanation is evident here.
[15] My assessment of Padgett is based upon my own reading of him, God, Eternity, and the Nature of Time, (St. Paul: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), and Dr. T. A. Noble’s notes for his Systematic Theology III class; “IV Creation and Time.” This paragraph is based upon both.
[16] It will quickly become evident that this is Augustine’s primary understanding of eternity, as he continues to speak of God existing in the simultaneity of eternity or the eternal today / now.
[17] We haven’t the space to develop and extended discussion of these three options here, but it is an important framework to recognize, especially as we begin to deal with the theological implications of Augustine’s conception.
[18] This section is essentially a summary of Book XI in the Confessions.
[19] This is one point on which he would differ from Neo-platonic thinking.
[20] Confessions, p. 224
[21] Confessions, p. 226
[22] Ibid, p. 230
[23] Ibid, p. 228
[24] Ibid, p. 235
[25] Ibid, p. 242
[26] Genevieve Lloyd, “Augustine and the ‘Problem’ of Time,” in The Augustinian Tradition, ed. Gareth B.
Matthews, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1999)
[27] Ibid, p. 244
[28] From Hawking’s A Brief History of Time quoted in Gunton, p. 81.
[29] Justo L. González, A History of Christian Thought: Volume II, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987)
pp. 39-40
[30] Mark Ellingsen, The Richness of Augustine: his contextual and pastoral theology, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), pp. 96ff.
[31] Gunton, Triune Creator, p. 86.
[32] Jügen Moltmann, In the End—the Beginning, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), p. 159. This seems to offer another alternative to the three conceptions of eternity proposed by Padgett.
[33] T. F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation, (New York: Oxford, 1969), p. 67.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

World AIDS Day

I can't believe that I've been blogging for almost a year now. This is one of the first issues that I blogged on nearly one year ago. It is an apropriate topic to remember today.

December 1st is World AIDS Day. Every 14 seconds a child loses a parent to AIDS. We all experience the chaos of such suffering, even if it is experienced from a distance.

Compassion, as Henri Nouwen has helped us all understand, is a word that simply means to "suffer with." God has compassion on us and has engaged in our suffering. Through the revelation of the incarnation we witness a God who is intimately connected to the suffering of His creation. The One who experiences the telos of our brokenness on His paradoxical throne. That symbol of suffering, death, defeat, and God-forsakenness has become a symbol of grace, forgiveness, victory, and reconciliation for those "in Christ."

We can no longer hypothesize the concept of a distant, removed god, for then we only speak of the "no-god." They shall call Him Immanuel, which means "God-with-us." The image of the invisible God bears witness that God is compassion - that compassion comes from God.

Those of us, then, who carry the banner of this God, who are called to become authentic expressions of the Kingdom, should be shaped into the life of compassion - the parabolic sacrifice that engages in the life of the "other." We can no longer safely distance ourselves from the brokenness of our world, but must engage in lives of compassion.

Okay, I know that I'm using a lot of technical jargon, forgive me, what I mean is this: God is compassion, therefore, we should live lives of compassion. Someone who claims to be a Christ-follower but is not shaped by compassion is simply lying to himself (John makes a similar point).

We should be leading the way. But, I must confess that I'm often overwhelmed by the need and end up doing nothing. I'm often tempted to lie to myself, following the natural "fallen" way of self-protection, ease, and comfort. My heart continues to harden as I witness the immensity of the problem and experience a small taste of the worlds suffering. There may be others out there that have gone through the same struggle. Where do we begin? Prayer.

As the World Vision suggests: "Pray! It all starts here, because the One to whom we pray is truly the only One who has the power, ultimately, to bring this crisis to an end. Pray for the tens of millions of children whose lives have been affected by AIDS. Ask God to show you what you can do. Pray that our leaders will make decisions that put children first." Join with others in praying for this immense world need.

Allow such prayers to shape your being and move you to action. World Vision offers opportunities for each of us to respond in meaningful ways on their World AIDS Day page.

On the Emergent Nazarene blog we've been discussing the power of faith stories...sometimes known as personal testimonies. I came across this powerful testimony today by Kay Warren. Kay and Rick have been consistently leading the way in the Evangelical sphere to address the AIDS pandemic. I would encourage you to check out her faith story. If you have any thoughts, feedback, or other ways that we Christ-followers might respond...I would love to hear it. Until Next Time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More Valuable

My wife is a recent University of Kansas graduate. She finished up her Master of Social Work degree last May. There is no way that I could have believed then that they would be vying for the No. 1 spot in NCAA division I football this weekend.

I thought, "Well, even though I'm an OU fan at heart, since I'm a good old Oklahoma boy, I could at least root for KU in this game." Unfortunately, they didn't show up to play and MU ran all over them. The final score was pretty close, but it was MU's game all the way. I guess it is better that they lost this game because there is no way that I could have cheered for them next week anyway.

They may not win a national trophy this year, but this Jayhawk is holding something much more valuable to me. My wife thought it would be fun to share our good news this way. Though I can assure you that I may allow this child to be a KU basketball fan...but when football season rolls around it is crimson and cream all the way.

My wife's 16th week of pregnancy was Thanksgiving Day. We are excited and nervous and totally unprepared. But we both knew what we were most thankful for on Thursday. What a wonderful gift.

I'm not one of those who thinks they've got it all figured out. So if any of you seasoned veterans want to give some sound parenting advice, I would love to hear it. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brokenness in Bangladesh

The first part of my week has been jam packed so I'm a little behind the eight ball on getting this information out there. Most of you have probably already heard that India was hit with Cyclone Sidr, one of the worst to strike that area in years. It has left millions of families in need. As always, WorldVision is on the scene bringing relief and healing in the midst of such brokenness. Check out their news update here and prayerfully consider contributing to this incarnational effort.

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving. ~W.T. Purkiser

Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Reading Level

cash advance

I don't want to intimidate anyone, but this arbitrary online device just said that my blog is at a "Genius Reading Level." I have no idea how they determine this sort of's probably a bunch of hooey, but it still makes you feel pretty good when an inanimate Internet device says you are writing at a genius level. I'll get down from my imaginary high horse here in a minute...oops I stepped in some horse dung. That's more like it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Conversation With Brian McLaren - Part 3

Here is part 3 of the conversation with Brian McLaren. If you have any thoughts or questions about this dialogue or about the ideas presented in this new book, Everything Must Change, I'd love to hear them.

Here is their description of this final video in the three part series:

Part Three of Alan Roxburgh's interview with Brian McLaren on his book, Everything Must Change brings this series to its conclusion. In this interview, Alan and Brian discuss issues that include our propensity for denying our past, other ways to peace, the need for our solutions to go deeper, our preoccupation with the church rather than the Kingdom, what Vaclav Havel's story of the fall of communism has to say to the state of the church today, and Brian's new Web site, Deep Shift.

Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Monday, November 12, 2007

God & the World

McLaren said something in the most recent video interview that I posted last week, which stuck with me and has had me ruminating ever since. As he talked about the catalyst for writing his current book, Everything Must Change, he struck a chord that resonated with something deep in my spirit. The impetus for this particular book began many years ago as he was speaking at a youth gathering. He asked the youth to write down a list of the major crises facing our world - today we might list: ecological instability, economic brokenness, discrimination, war & violence, etc. In reviewing their lists, he came to the realization that the "church" as a whole, and especially our evangelical brand, was by and large silent on the major crises that the global community was facing. Beyond that, it seemed that in many of these cases we were contributing more to the problem than to the solution.

Now, this is not necessarily the intention of our modern Christian community, and it's not to discount the various churches and Christian organizations that are speaking and acting redemptively in our world. As with any generalization there are going to be exceptions. However, the overarching picture seems to indicate that the Christian community is disconnected from the realities of this broken world and is ultimately either irrelevant, or worse, significantly contributing to these crises.

If this isn't an accurate portrayal of our current situation - it seems to me that it at least captures the perspective of a large segment of our global population. I happen to believe that there is much truth in this perception. Regardless of how we respond to that proposition, we must reckon with the reality that we have lost our voice. Some react by shouting louder and louder, thinking that it is a volume issue. Yet, increased volume only widens the chasm. We need to do some serious introspection, and it seems to me that McLaren and others are attempting to help us in this respect.

I'm not exactly sure how we got here. Given that my reflections tend toward theological engagement, it is probably not surprising that I have been thinking about some of the underlying theological assumptions that have moved us in this direction. I'm confident that we can't be reductionist in our thinking and pinpoint a specific source. At the same time, I do think that exposing some of our inadequate theological assumption might begin to illumine a better path for us. In doing so, we may just find our voice again. These are some of my beginning thoughts, in that respect, that need further dialogue and development.

St. Athanasius wrote a powerful treatise On the Incarnation of the Word early in the fourth century. We need to go back and read him again and again because part of the underlying problem for our disengagement from the world and our irrelevance is the result of an underdeveloped reflection on the incarnation, especially as it relates to our atonement in Christ. If we are to engage the world through the depths of our Christian faith, we will need to rediscover a full orbed participation in the incarnation.

We have been inhibited in this engagement partly as a result of our dualistic cast of mind. Athanasius is able to creatively explore the incarnation of the Word because he was deeply shaped by a biblical and Hebraic way of thinking that doesn't operate from a dualistic paradigm. Aspects of "post-modernity" - specifically post-critical philosophy and Einsteinian cosmology - are encouraging developments in this area.

Our eschatological vision also shapes our engagement in the world. We tend to have a skewed and unbiblical eschatology - one that is influenced more by Greek dualistic philosophical categories than the revelation of God in the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Until we return to a christocentric eschatology that is pneumatologically oriented, we'll continue to run into the same problems.

All of this reflection came to a culmination as I read this excerpt today:

To believe in God is to believe in the salvation of the world. The paradox of our time is that those who believe in God do not believe in the salvation of the world, and those who believe in the future of the world do not believe in God.

Christians believe in "the end of the world," they expect the final catastrophe, the punishment of others.

Atheists in their turn invent doctrines of salvation, try to give a meaning to life, work, the future of humankind, and refuse to believe in God because Christians believe in Him and take no interest in the world.

All ignore the true God: He who has so loved the world! But which is more culpable ignorance?

To love God is to love the world. To love God passionately is to love the world passionately. To hope in God is to hope for the salvation of the world.

I often say to myself that, in our religion, God must feel very much alone: for is there anyone besides God who believes in the salvation of the world? God seeks among us sons and daughters who resemble Him enough, who love the world enough that He could send them into the world to save it.

~ From In the Christian Spirit by Louis Evely

We have not gone deep enough! May the Lord draw us deeper in to the life of Triune Love that we might participate in His redemptive mission. Any thoughts? Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Conversation With Brian McLaren - Part 2

This is a continuation (part 2) of the conversation with Brian McLaren that I posted a few weeks back. You can find the video here. If you have any thoughts or questions about this dialogue or about the ideas presented in this new book, Everything Must Change, I'd love to hear them. Until Next Time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Stupid Humor

Some days you just need to take a break and laugh. Since I was a bit nostalgic today, I decided to watch a couple of my favorite funny videos. When I worked maintenance at the Seminary we would often sit around the computer at lunch time and watch these stupid videos...those were some great days.

You probably need a laugh I decided to share a couple of my favorites. Enjoy!

Doesn't this make you want to just go and pick up a cat today!

This one answers and age old question.

Why men don't ask for directions!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ordinary Saints

Today is All Saints Day. For Christ-followers, remembering and celebrating our heroes in the faith goes back as far as at least AD 270. This official celebration was moved to November 1st in AD 835, in response to certain pagan rituals. Yet, as one significantly shaped by the protestant reformation, I've not been taught to give much time and space to honor the saints.

It is somewhat paradoxical that Reformation Day is so closely related to All Saints Day. As the story goes, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church on October 31st, AD 1517. This has become our marker for the beginning of the protestant reformation. It seems that we live with this tension - we are called to honor the saints that have gone before us; those who have marked out the path of faith, while recognizing the continual need for re-formation. I believe that these two can live in harmony, but they often become polarized in our communal life.

I've been reflecting on this tension. It seems that I live in the midst of it and probably always will - at least in this finite, broken and fragmented reality. When the King comes then the harmony will be complete.

I've also been thinking about how we, protestant evangelicals, honor the saints. I don't meditate too much on the life of well known saints, though I do think about the heroes in the faith at times. I would probably benefit from reflecting on their stories more often. Yet, it is the lesser known saints...the ordinary saints that have been coming to mind in these days. In this, I fully affirm Paul's understanding that all Christ-followers are saints. I don't really give much weight to the canonization process. I perceive that it can be somewhat counterproductive, but that probably illumines my personal bias.

We all have saints in our lives. Those ordinary saints that others may not recognize as such, who have had a deeply formative impact on us. How do we honor these ordinary saints? I think we honor them by remembering them and telling their story. They become icons that points us beyond themselves to the mystery of God's gracious presence.

So today I want to honor St. Papaw. I'll never forget this tall, lanky man. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Oklahoma and carried that earthiness throughout his entire life. No mask will fit once you have experienced genuine communion with the God of creation. He knew this well and never tried on any masks. He was simply who he was - nothing more; nothing less. Real - that's what he was and so many were drawn to the reality of his being.

He became a Christ-follower while plowing the field one day. The seed fell on good soil and the fruit of faithfulness began to grow. He was an established field of faithfulness by the time that I came into the picture. It was evident in his every word and action. Simple, authentic, genuine faith - he was a great teacher of life's deepest truth. I honor him today as a saint of faithfulness, may I continue to follow in the path that he marked so well.

Finally, let me share a prayer attributed to a better known saint:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
That where there is hatred I may bring love,
That where there is wrong—I may bring the spirit of forgiveness,
That where there is discord—I may bring harmony,
That where there is error—I may bring truth,
That where there is doubt—I may bring faith.
That where there is despair—I may bring hope,
That where there are shadows—I may bring Your light,
That where there is sadness—I may bring Joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort—than to be comforted;
To understand—than to be understood;
To love—than to be loved:

For it is by giving—that one receives;
It is by self-forgetting—that one finds;
It is by forgiving—that one is forgiven;
It is by dying—that one awakens to eternal life.

~ St. Francis of Assisi

It is odd, though it shouldn't be, that these two saints separated by time and space, culture and language seem to me to have been shaped by the same Truth and motivated by the same Spirit. I suppose that's what makes one a saint to begin with. May we honor the saints as we are continually re-formed by the Spirit to genuinely reflect the Truth. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS