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Jesus, the Center, and the Myth of "the Secular"
July 5, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Jesus, the Center, and the Myth of "the Secular"
In the second part of Dr. Wright’s three-part series on Colossians 1:15-20, he reflects on Paul’s proclamation that all things hold together in Christ: For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Wright believes the reality of this passage has some bearing on the philosophy of existence on a fundamental level. That is, this passage reveals what contingent creation is by reference to who Jesus is: Jesus, as the eternal Word (Logos) of creation, gives the universe its form, its shape, and its very existence. And this existence has no life, form, or shape without holding together in its center – Jesus Christ. If the way Dr. Wright interprets this passage is correct, it is difficult to imagine a reality in which nature and grace are mutually exclusive. It is not as though the world has existence in-and-of-itself apart from Jesus. If Christ is abstracted from the center of creation, there is no creation to speak of! That is why, as Dr. Wright says, “the secular never was separate from God; nature never was natural but always a gift.” But in a world “of a technical reason that fragments, disassociates, and pulls apart,” we are tempted to speak of a “secular” realm that confines Jesus “to an orb within human beings called ‘the religious.’” But if Jesus is holding all things together at the center of creation, there really is no such thing as “the secular” at the fundamental level of existence. How could there be? If Jesus is the center, the cornerstone, and the eternal glue of contingent reality, there can be no extraction of the sacred from the natural world. And this is precisely why we can do science as Christians; this is why Stephen J. Gould’s notion of the “non-overlapping magisteria” – the separation of “religious” and “scientific” domains – is, at the level of fundamental existence, a myth. Since creation is always already “graced” by Jesus Christ, there can be no such thing as “pure nature,” nor could there be a fundamental separation of “the religious” from “the natural.” As the late Catholic theologian Henri de Lubac would put it, everything in creation is already sacred. The consequences of separating “the secular” from “the religious” are dire: “The center becomes drawn at the intersection of the relationship between the two different orbs. We can become prone to protect the newly created ‘center’ by arguing for its superiority (and thus ours) from others who articulate the center of the relationship in their own way. The body of Christ fragments with the loss of a common center, just like ‘the secular’ has been created by reductionist reason that itself fragments our lives into various discrete realms of experience.” When this fragmentation occurs, we replace Jesus with a human-constructed center, constituting idolatry. And when Christians lose the common center of Jesus and become dogmatically protective of their own created centers, the body of Christ fractures and ceases to be recognized as distinctively Christian. We are especially wont to do this when discussing tough issues like evolution, the origin of humankind, global warming, homosexuality, and the like. We should remember, however, that as we pursue the truth of these things together, Jesus holds it all together. As Dr. Wright concludes, it is in our worship that we find this center. Indeed, it is there that we realize, cognitively and bodily, that the Truth is not a category or a position or a human-constructed center. Rather, the Truth is a person. Stay tuned for a reflection on part three of Dr. Wright’s series.
Imaging God in Colossians
July 3, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Imaging God in Colossians
Back in January, Rev. Dr. John Wright wrote a three-part series on Colossians 1:15-20. Since this is one of the founding passages for the mission and vision of The Colossian Forum, we believe that reflecting on Dr. Wright’s insights would clarify for our readers the kind of conversation we intend to have on the blog. In part one, Wrights spends a weighty portion of the essay on the mysterious notion that Christ is a visible icon of the invisible God: The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Col 1:15) Visible things, says Wright, point beyond themselves to invisible things. “We look at a mother who interacts in perfect rhythm with her cooing daughter,” he says, “and we see love.” The integral relation between the visible and the invisible is such that the invisible vanishes if it’s abstracted from that which we can see. The Incarnation gets at the heart of this concept – Jesus is the embodied image of the invisible God. Yet Jesus, by virtue of being the firstborn over all creation, “does not merely represent the image of God; Jesus IS the image of God.” Dr. Wright reminds us how important embodiment is in this passage from Colossians. And the good news is that as followers of this enfleshed God-man, we get to participate in his body; as adopted daughters and sons of the Triune God, we become like Christ, our “firstborn” brother. In Paul’s words, we “put on Christ.” (Eph 4:20-24) If we are being changed into the likeness of Jesus, we too become visible images of the Trinity, revealing to the world the invisible reality of a gracious and hospitable God. As we endeavor to foster charitable conversations at the intersection of faith, science, and culture, we want to embody Christ in a world where we, as images of Jesus, bear witness to God’s glory. Next time I will take a look at Dr. Wright’s second post in his three-part series.
Praying The Scriptures with The Colossian Forum
June 29, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Praying The Scriptures with The Colossian Forum
Here at The Colossian Forum we believe that the unity of Christians bears witness to the glory of God. And what greater unity is there than praying with the communion of saints and with the church? We invite you to participate in praying the Divine Office with us, and Michael Gulker, our executive director, reflects on why this form of prayer is so important for the life of the church and for the mission of The Colossian Forum. Take a look.
Return to the Sources!
June 25, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Return to the Sources!
If you’ve spent any time on our main website, you know that we've said a lot about the theological interpretation of Scripture. This view desires that Christians are able to read Scripture together as a church community, wrestling with the text for answers to normative questions. After all, the theological interpretation of scripture is normative, not merely descriptive. The concern is often that if we reduce our method of scripture-reading to historical criticism, we will come away with only a view of the world “behind” the text, but as James K.A. Smith has pointed out (utilizing the insights of Paul Ricoeur) in his review of Pete Enns’ recent book, “the meaning of Scripture is also generated in front of the text.” We should not eschew the benefits of the historical-critical model; the theological interpretation of Scripture is just one method that implies that what’s “behind the text” – the historical context, the authors’ original intent, etc. – will likely not fully account for the political, social, and intellectual contexts that change drastically with time. The theological interpretation of Scripture implies that we utilize a hermeneutics that can apply the Scriptures for us today. Of course, we will inevitably come to the Scriptures with the presuppositions that reflect our cultural situatedness, which is why Dr. Graham Cole says we should be good phenomenologists of the text. How we receive the phenomena of the Scriptures – how we see in front of the text – generates meaning in the Scriptures that could not possibly have been inherent to the authors’ original intentions or contexts. This does not imply that we are the sole infusers of meaning, or that we have the right to “update” the Scriptures according to our times. Rather, it simply acknowledges the vibrancy and vastness of Scripture, a text that we both “live into” and generate meaning “in front of.” And the meaning we generate is inspired by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Since the theological interpretation of Scripture seeks to account for the background knowledge we inherit from the church’s two-thousand year history, it requires us to return to the sources. In the mid-twentieth century a number of Roman Catholic theologians proposed that the Catholic Church must return to the sources of Scripture and the ancient church. That is, they proposed that the life of the church today depends on its participation with the ancient sources (the movement is known as the Catholic ressourcement (“return to the sources”)). Recently, a number of evangelical Christians have proposed a ressourcement of their own, seeking to recover the insights of Christianity’s Great Tradition. A few days ago, James K.A. Smith posted about David Dockery and Timothy George’s recent engagements with these ancient theological sources. I would like to direct you to other related books, specifically the Evangelical Ressourcement series, published by Baker and edited by D.H. Williams. By returning to the ancient sources for the sake of the church’s future, this series encourages a theological interpretation of Scripture, and the evangelical authors encourage their evangelical readers to cultivate tradition rather than being overly suspicious of it. Here’s a brief description of the aim of the series, found on Baker’s website: “The Evangelical Ressourcement series is grounded in the belief that there is a wealth of theological, exegetical, and spiritual resources from the patristic era that is relevant for the Christian church today and into the future. Amid the current resurgence of interest in the early church, this series aims to help church thinkers and leaders reappropriate these ancient understandings of Christian belief and practice and apply them to ministry in the twenty-first century.” One might wonder what these sources have to do with the “faith and science” conversation. But for that I’ll leave you with Dr. Graham Cole’s remarks on how the theological interpretation of Scripture intersects with this conversation: part one can be found here, followed by part two here.
Whose Politics? Which Conversation?
June 22, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Whose Politics? Which Conversation?
Does the tenor of the conversation on the intersection of faith and science reflect the current (American) political climate? Christina Van Dyke, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, thinks so. In this video, she posits that the willingness of American Christians to divide over issues of faith and science is related to the polarization of various factions in American politics. We hope Christians can recognize the sense in which our rigid identification with positions in partisan politics often encourages a rather divisive and offensively acerbic tone. And we, along with Dr. Van Dyke, want us to recognize the way in which this carries over into our conversations on faith, science, and culture. Perhaps we should not become so identified with our political “positions” that we automatically consider alternative accounts as threats. When our positions urge us to become fearful of otherness and difference, we become closed off to the gifts of others’ insights, differences of opinion, or disagreements. And given this fear, we even become militant. Does that sound like any campaign ads you’ve seen lately? Why all the vitriol if not for fear? The common American political paradigm is such that we’re expected to dogmatically identify with options that, by nature, are militantly opposed to others. And if the identification with these options is dogmatic, the militant opposition that goes along with it is also dogmatic. As followers of Jesus, we are not called to be dogmatically militant, especially to those whom we call our brothers and sisters in Christ. Furthermore, we must question whether Christians are called to stake their identities in the system of partisan politics. That’s not to say that Christians should not participate in politics, but rather that our identities are bound up in the resurrected Lord and his body, the church. It is there that we cultivate the virtues of charity and hospitality, virtues that enable us to extend ourselves across our differences amidst this conversation on faith, science, and culture. If Christina Van Dyke is correct in saying that the conversation on faith, science, and culture divides the church due to its recourse to the rhetoric of U.S. politics, we might say that the church is the alternative space in which to cultivate a different kind of rhetoric, one of peace, charity, and the communal pursuit of truth. This rhetoric is tethered to the biblical proclamation that all things hold together in Christ (Col. 1:17), including science and the Christian faith (two things that Dr. Van Dyke says were never separated until the modern era).
David Dockery on the Riches of the Christian Intellectual Tradition
June 20, 2012 | James K.A. Smith
David Dockery on the Riches of the Christian Intellectual Tradition
We at The Colossian Forum are excited to see evangelicals rediscovering the riches of "the Great Tradition" of Christian faith--the orthodox legacy bequeathed to us in the rich theological resources of Nicea and Chalcedon, as well as the wise teaching of ancient and medieval doctors of the church.  One can see signs of this in the collection edited by Timothy George, Evangelicals and Nicene Faith: Recovering the Apostolic Witness. George has now partnered with David Dockery, the president of Union University, to co-edit a new book series, Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition, which will mine the riches of this tradition for thinking across the disciplines.  (We'll be particularly interested to see the forthcoming volume on the sciences.)  The first volume, The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student's Guide, is something of a manifesto for this project and this sensibility that finds wisdom in the past. You can read an interview with David Dockery that explains the rationale of the series and their vision for the project.