X

The Colossian Forum Subscription Form

| Resume a previously saved form
Resume Later

In order to be able to resume this form later, please enter your email and choose a password.

Subscriber Information







Subscriptions

Resources

The Colossian Forum offers free resources to help you transform polarizing cultural conflicts into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness.

Mailing Address







Please enter the required value for your country.

Our Blog

Archives
Brad Kallenberg on "Tradition-Based Rationality"
July 28, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Brad Kallenberg on "Tradition-Based Rationality"
Dr. Brad Kallenberg has recently written a glossary item for us on “tradition-based rationality,” a term derived from Alasdair MacIntyre. Kallenberg begins the essay by explaining the sense in which conceptual language is shaped and shared by communities. The explanation assumes a view of the “makeup” of humanity by which the embodied practices and immersion in a way of life develops the vocabulary of the community that shares in the given way of life. The vocabulary of conceptual language is not vacuous, in other words; it does not “correspond” to things and concepts that are “out there” somewhere. Rather, as embodied and desiring creatures aimed at an end (a telos), our conceptual vocabulary is shaped by the desire for the internal goods of the community aimed at these ends. When I played collegiate baseball, one goal (telos) of playing was to bring college students together, and winning often helped achieve that end. But winning was not an end in itself. An internal good of this team (a community) was the friendship of college students, so the conceptual language of “victory” meant something different to us than it would for teams that thought winning was an end in itself. As an example of the acquisition of conceptual language, Kallenberg says that one “comes to read music with comprehension while learning to play an instrument (or sing in a choir) with other musicians.” The “language” of music is acquired in, through, and by the whole choir or the whole group of musicians. The same is the case for the language of theology, says Kallenberg: "By participating with others in those activities in which the word “God” is at home – activities such as praying, confessing, thanking, evangelizing, worshipping – one will slowly become fluent in the language of God." Indeed, theological language is not something we can learn about merely from good books (although that’s important, too!). We must also immerse ourselves in the kind of practices that make such language intelligible in the first place. For example, when I’m immersed in the liturgical rituals that teach me that “freedom” is being rightfully constrained as a slave to Christ, the broader culture’s association of “freedom” with the freedom from constraint becomes unintelligible to me. In both cases there are embodied practices that determine the meaning of the word “freedom,” and they are quite different. The communities in which this conceptual language is formed are shaped over time, and they constitute “traditions.” As Kallenberg points out, MacIntyre defines a tradition as “an historically extended, socially embodied argument.” The argument, he says, is the ongoing discussion over the meaning of the vocabulary used in these communities. The understanding of this vocabulary is shown “by the way that [the adherents] talk and live with each other.” "For example, Christians understand “Good News” to entail daily acts of forgiveness. Christians’ forgiveness of each other ought thus to be regular enough to outsiders to recognize it in the pattern of Christian interactions. (Likeness, Christian communities that are devoid of such daily acts of forgiveness display that their concept of forgiveness is empty.)" Given all of this, Kallenberg says that human reasoning is both tradition-constitutive and tradition-constituted. It’s tradition-constitutive because “the entire web of conversations across time… comprises or constitutes a living tradition.” It’s tradition-constituted because it is always “located within some tradition or other.” This is quite a different understanding of rationality than what’s been offered by the Enlightenment!  
So What Do We Mean by "Worship"?
July 19, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
So What Do We Mean by "Worship"?
When I try to explain to family and friends what exactly the mission of The Colossian Forum is, I’m often asked what we mean when we say that the virtues are cultivated through worship. More precisely, people often wonder what definition of “worship” we’re operating on when we make such an important claim. “How does expressing gratitude to God as I sing songs of praise produce virtue?” I was recently asked. While this question is an important one, we believe there are some rather problematic assumptions in the characteristic of worship as merely an “expression of gratitude.” Of course, I give the questioner the benefit of the doubt that her philosophy of worship is vaster than this, but the commonality of this particular question leads us to wonder how often Christians reduce worship to an expressive-individualistic practice. In fact, we wonder if this is the case because we at The Colossian Forum are just as predisposed to these assumptions as anyone else. I know I find myself describing worship this way more than I'd like. To clarify what we mean by “worship,” I want to point you to James K.A. Smith’s glossary entry on “Worship: Expression and Formation.” Here Dr. Smith voices a few concerns regarding the reduction of worship to an “expression” of an “interior” devotion. Furthermore, he reminds us that prior to modernity, Christian worship was considered a formative practice, too. For those who want to understand what exactly we mean by “worship” as it applies to the formation of the virtues, take a look at Dr. Smith’s entry. While you’re there, also take a look at the recommended reading provided at the bottom.
David Burrell Writes on "Friendship in Virtue Ethics"
July 17, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
David Burrell Writes on "Friendship in Virtue Ethics"
Dr. David Burrell, professor emeritus of philosophy and theology at the University of Notre Dame, has recently written a glossary item on “friendship in virtue ethics” for us. Focusing on sections from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Burrell looks at the ethical significance of “the good” in relation to friendship. Indeed, Aristotle “insisted that we could not find a good more durable or nourishing than friends.” What’s more, one’s achievement of the good depends on the communal pursuit of this end, such that (authentic) friendship and the good are intimately bound to each other; friendship is a necessary condition of the pursuit of the good, yet an embracing good is what brings friends together. The dynamic relationship between friendship and the pursuit of the good should lead us to question the common definition of a human being as an “autonomous individual” who “picks and chooses” among options. As Burrell says, “true friends are more like family: they grow on us and sustain us; we did not choose them! Once we are accustomed to think of ourselves as individuals, however, we will hunger all the more for friends, though we may no longer know how to engage in true friendship.” For more on this, see Dr. Burrell’s full glossary entry here.
Journal of Theological Interpretation
July 13, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Journal of Theological Interpretation
Given our interest in the theological interpretation of Scripture, we wanted to point our viewers to the Journal of Theological Interpretation, edited by Joel B. Green. Peruse the website and the table of contents for past issues; perhaps you’ll be interested in the kind of research taking place at the intersection of history, theology, philosophy, and biblical studies, especially as it relates to our own research pertaining to faith and science.
Todd Wood on "Surrender"
July 12, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Todd Wood on "Surrender"
Todd Wood has recently written an essay that reflects on the church’s attitude of surrender. As he has said in a previous article, the way to sustain the unity of the body of Christ in the midst of a culture war over creation and evolution is to follow the surrendering humility of Christ. Dr. Wood spends a portion of this essay disclaiming the notion that surrender implies a passive and lethargic disregard for the matters at hand. Surrender is not synonymous with nonchalantly ignoring the issues or refusing to understand the deep grammar employed in these conversations. The posture taken by some Christians who do rigorously deal with the issues is often rather dismissive, despite their passionate research. On the one hand, a person’s intense study of what he or she takes the biblical text to mean might lead this person to eschew the scientific inquiries that appear to contradict or disrupt this person’s interpretive paradigm. On the other hand, a person’s scientific commitments might lead this person to ignore biblical and theological tenets that have been held by the church for millennia (Wood’s example of the dynamic between the creation/fall/redemption narrative and evolution illustrates the point). Both scenarios offer examples of the kind of surrender Dr. Wood does not propose we embody. Dr. Wood’s notion of surrender takes a cruciform shape. That is, he looks at the passion of Christ as a model of surrender, particularly as characterized in his Gethsemane prayer: “Not my will but thine be done.” As Wood goes on to say, “Christ’s surrender was not to circumstances, the Devil, or other people. Jesus surrendered to God and God alone.” And then, Wood asks the pivotal question: “How could that work in this debate over creation?” When we surrender to God and God alone, says Wood, we surrender the selfish desires that are at the root of our aspirations of winning arguments. This reminds me of a story I once heard about a professor who debated another revered scholar on a topic I cannot recall at the moment. The first professor, who was a Christian, happened to believe he’d gotten the best of the other scholar, so he later called another Christian colleague (a theologian), and told him he’d won. “I won! I did it. I finally beat Professor So-and-So!” To this his colleague responded, “What are you talking about? Jesus already won two-thousand years ago!” Dr. Wood, like the wise colleague, reminds us that the point of pursuing truth is not to have opponents “concede to our superior understanding.” If surrendering is to take on a cruciform shape, this kind of selfishness has no place in discipleship. Surrender, according to Wood, also assumes that God’s sovereignty is acknowledged. There’s a latent assumption that we are saviors of the world when we think our evolutionist or creationist positions will save Christianity and, hence, the world. The austere crusading mentality amounts to nothing but idolatry, a worship of oneself, because it assumes that God is not (and cannot) sustain the church and hold all things together. As Wood says, “the God who created this universe is still God enough to help us work out our differences.” Are you currently engaged in a conversation with someone on these issues? If so, good! – These conversations are worth having. But as you have this dialogue, what can you surrender? And how?
Celebrating the Feast of Benedict with The Colossian Forum
July 11, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Celebrating the Feast of Benedict with The Colossian Forum
Alasdair MacIntyre, a philosopher who significantly influences the thought and work of The Colossian Forum, concluded his masterpiece After Virtue by describing a turning point in the epoch leading up to the Roman Empire’s decline into the Dark Ages: "A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognizing fully what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness." (MacIntyre, After Virtue, 3rd edition, 263) Indeed, there was a time when a group of Christians did just that, refusing to be defined by the cultural, intellectual, and moral contours of a society that was unsustainable. This group followed the “school” of one Benedict of Nursia. In a fragmented world with no end in sight, Benedict proposed to carve out small communities of faith that would work to maintain the moral, communal, and intellectual vision that would otherwise be rendered incoherent if assimilated to the trends of the age. As the darkness fell over Rome, the light of the Benedictine communities pierced through the shadows for all to see. Benedict encouraged communal living, sharing the common purse, obedience to God, accountability, humility, friendship, hospitality, and intellectual rigor. Indeed, without the monks – who built hospitals and preserved classical texts and even contributed to the experimental sciences – we would doubtless live in a society with little memory of the goodness of civilization. The teachings of Benedict are summed up in The Rule of Saint Benedict, a short work that can be read in one or two sittings. It was written to instruct these small communities in the virtues that would sustain their way of life and, indeed, the life of the world. It was a spiritual guide for a new kind of community seeking to foster new kinds of moral and intellectual inquiry for the hope of a new world to come. Indeed, the Benedictine monasteries showed us that civility is sustained only when it is nourished by salt. And when the world loses its salt, it rots. Lamentably, the world has lost much of its salt in an age gone dark again. In the conversation at the intersection of faith and science, for example, Christians have employed the vocabulary and embodied the practices of polarizing factions in partisan politics, a system MacIntyre says is “characterized by moral incoherence and unsettable moral disputes.” After admonishing us to be careful in drawing such parallels, MacIntyre says that we, like the peoples of sixth-century Rome, have come to a turning point: "What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. . . . We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict." (ibid) The construction of such a community has economic and domestic implications. Consider, for example, the “new monastic” communities that are so influenced by MacIntyre and, ultimately, Benedict. The wisdom of this sixth-century giant does not universally necessitate precisely the new monastics’ form of living, but we would be wise to acknowledge their desire to live in the rhythms of prayer, work, Sabbath, charity, and hospitality. Ultimately, that is the wisdom of Benedict – that we would cultivate the kinds of virtues that enable a steady rhythm of the Kingdom in a world with no discernible rhythm at all. If, as MacIntyre posits, a new dark age is upon us and the virtues are our only hope, we need Christians to carve out spaces where they can be formed, body and soul and mind, by the kinds of virtues that render their moral, intellectual, and spiritual vocabulary coherent among themselves. As long as the body of Christ adopts the vocabulary of a fragmented culture with “unsettable moral disputes,” we too will decline into this dark age. Today marks the feast of Benedict, a day to remember him in our prayers and conversations. There is no greater wisdom to consult than his as we press on in our conversations at the intersection of faith, science, and culture. We don’t all have to be monks, but we certainly should, to some extent, be monastic (the meaning of the word being “one.”). In a world that lacks rhythm, ends, civility, moral and intellectual coherence, and oneness, may the embodiment of our oneness bear witness to the Truth. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Stay connected and informed about the latest in faithful conflict engagement tools! Sign up to receive exclusive event invitations, blogs, prayer letters, e-news and other content.