Thursday, February 28, 2008

the Way of Interchange

Last week I was reading N. T. Wright's commentary on Philemon (a letter I've apparently never looked at hard enough), and I stumbled onto a familiar idea that I was hardly expecting to read there:
Philemon is to learn in practice that koin┼Źnia means an 'interchange' between those who are Christ's. Paul first identifies himself closely with Philemon (vv.1-7): then he establishes the closest possible ties between himself and Onesimus (vv.10-14). The result of this 'interchange' are that Onesimus and Philemon are brought together - in Paul (vv.17-20).

At this point I--and any other self-respecting student of the Inklings--must stop and say "Aha! Charles Williams."

Charles Williams and Exchange
Williams had three really central concepts in his understandings of both Christianity and existence: co-inherence, substitution, and exchange. These three are hard to distinguish between sometimes in his thought, and indeed they're very closely related. His essay "The Way of Exchange" explores that single concept pretty-well in depth, with the appropriate mentions of the other two along the way.
There are several scriptures that C.W. references in relation to exchange; some are returned to again and again in the essay, others, though important as well, only come up in-passing (the man had a way with using quotations in his works and speech... he very fluent in it and did so frequently; even those that seem to be random, spurts of literary filigree, have a heavy meaning in Williams's schema). The most-heavily emphasized verse--indeed, Williams saw this as the particular expression of the Christian idea of duty towards a neighbor--is Galatians 6.2: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."
It encouraged, indeed demanded, a continual attention to the needs of one's neighbor, to his distresses and his delights. And it defined "neighbor" as meaning anyone with whom one was, by holy Luck, brought into contact. It required, then, and active "sympathy," and it spoke of something still higher, of an active and non-selfish love. It went even farther. It declared a union of existences. It proclaimed that our own lives depended on the lives of our neighbors. Saint Anthony of Egypt laid down the doctrine in so many words: "Your life and your death are with your neighbor."

This last line begins to bring up his idea of "co-inherence", of things existing in one another. He saw this principle at work on all levels of being: the persons of the Trinity co-inhering with each other; the people of God co-inhering with God (1 John 4.13); even the people of God co-inhering with each other (Rom 12.5, Eph 4.25).
The collision of co-inherence and the command to "bear ye one another's burdens" wrought his idea of exchange. Williams felt the "thing was put plainly enough" in a passage from the records of some followers of Saint Anthony's:
A certain old man used to say, 'It is right for a man to take up the burden for those who are akin (or near) to him, whatsoever it may be, and, so to speak, to put his own soul in the place of that of his neighbor, and to become, if it were possible, a double man; and he must suffer, and weep, and mourn with him, and finally the matter must be accounted by him as if he himself had put on the actual body of his neighbor, and as if he had acquired his countenance and soul, and he must suffer for him as he would for himself.'

In practice Williams saw this "way of exchange" as Christians relieving others of their anxieties, their infirmities, etc. "by a compact of substitution" made "as simply and as effectually as an assent is given to the carrying of a parcel. A man can cease to worry about X because his friend has agreed to be worried by X."
It has to be noted that Williams still held this to be the work of God: "No doubt this is only a part of casting all our burdens upon the Lord; the point is that it may well be a part of it." Ultimately this is all tied to the nature of God and the work of God through Christ.
The divine Word co-inheres in God the Father (as the Father in him and the Spirit in both), but also he has substituted his manhood for ours in the secrets of the Incarnation and Atonement. The principle of the Passion is that he gave his life "for" us--that is, instead of and on behalf of--ours. In that sense he lives in us and we in him, he and we co-inhere. "I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me" said Saint Paul, and defined the wev of universal power towards substitution.

Just a side note: some of Williams's descriptions of this exchange at work in the essay are absolutely beautiful. I've had to leave out nuances and digressions in his thought here also, so I heartily recommend the original work to you.

Interchange in Philemon
Now let's turn back to Philemon. Wright describes what is at work in the epistle as "interchange", a term that he borrows from M. D. Hooker and his essay "Interchange in Christ".
The essay, from the Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 22, 1971, is chiefly about the role that 'interchange' plays in the Incarnation and Atonement--some of the primary scriptures that Hooker is exploring are Galatians 3.13, 2 Corinthians 5.21, 8.9, and Romans 8, "all of which are in the same general form--Christ become what we are, in order that (in him) we might become what he is."
At the very end of the article, however, Hooker briefly approaches the concept of an "exchange" that the believer shares in by being "in Christ" that "overflows into the lives of others", where "Paul shares in the experience of interchange, and in turn shares his experience with others." Hooker then offers a plethora of passages from 2 Corinthians illustrating this: 4.10-12; 6.10; 13.9; 13.4; and 1.4-6.

This is what N. T. Wright sees in Philemon: "an interchange between those who are Christ's."
"Paul plays Christ in the drama, identifying himself with both sinner and offended party, so making peace." Paul accomplishes this by associating himself with Onesimus in a sort of exchange of persons; it's all not unlike Williams's description of Christ's work, except here Paul "has substituted his manhood" for Philemon's. Look at verses 17-18:
So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

He is interchanging himself with Philemon through their joint faith in Christ and membership in the Body. Paul is picking up Onesimus's tab, so to speak, and the escaped slave is taking the apostle's place of welcome with Philemon. They're bearing one another's burdens, though some may seem more burdensome than others.

All of this has served to give me a new and deeper appreciation of Philemon. Hopefully, more than that, it will also serve as a kind turn for Charles Williams. The man's theology, for all its eccentricities, gets little attention at all today; yet here we see it anticipating Hooker and Wright. Perhaps, just maybe this brilliant Inkling deserves another, longer, more thorough look today. Some of his thought will certainly never be considered orthodox, but beneath it all there's no telling what you may find that's worth saving--especially if, as Hooker concluded, "the interchange of experience--with Christ, within his own life, and with others--is something which ought to be known by every believer."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Veritas Forum: Conclusion

What Your University Won’t Teach U, But U Are Apt to Catch Anyway: Shallow and Dangerous Morality

In the last Veritas lecture that I was able to attend, Dr. Willard was speaking largely on moral truth, and the impotency of the University when it comes to the topic. Though many people inside and outside of the university may not realize this, “it will not teach you good and evil, right and wrong.” The closest thing to a moral truth being taught by a university, Willard argued, takes the form of the rules against plagiarism and cheating, though these are viewed more as technical issues than moral ones. This is a precarious situation because, while these things aren’t being taught, moral life goes on; moral messages also are sent in the classroom outside of the curriculum itself, and we must this to careful, rational evaluation and critique.

So what does this problem look like? A speaker addressing incoming freshmen at the University of Chicago in the 1990s told them what they could expect to learn and what they shouldn’t expect in their college education—in the latter fell “truth” and “moral guidance”. The university giving a student truth would be nullifying their own critical faculties; the moral guidance that he spoke of was direct statements about right and wrong, good and bad. Though a number of professors and thinkers from across the country challenged his assertion, eventually he conquered the opposition. No truth, no moral guidance. Way may discuss morality, provide readings, examples from history, etc., but we do not teach it.

Most people, Willard contended, would say that these aren’t taught because no one really knows what right morality is to teach it. Not surprisingly, he went on to show the floundering of Ethics as course material in the university following the removal of theology from the course catalogue. “That left ethics and moral knowledge without foundation.”
The study of ethics moved from the sciences to the social sciences, finally to the humanities, but ultimately none of these could lay a foundation for thou shalt not steal, etc.
Now courses in ethics offer an overview of different moral systems devised over the millennia--Kant or Aristotle again come to mind. However, these are merely presented qua different systems by different men; still nothing is taught as moral Truth. While some may consider this to be enough, Willard emphasized that there's often a "disconnect between intellect and action", or, a "disparity between intellect and character." He illustrated this well with the account of a young woman who, in conjunction with a work scholarship, did cleaning in the campus dorms. While working there she was often treated despicably by classmates, and one student in particular, with whom she had taken Ethics courses (and who himself had performed very well in them), on several occasions propositioned the young lady for sex.
"This is a case of failure of intellect."

Willard felt that one of the other hinderances to our teaching moral Truth in the university was the emphasis on pluralism. But, he argued, the way to be pluralistic is not just to say that we don’t know anything or that everyone’s right. Instead, it comes from Christ’s teaching of loving our neighbor as ourselves. That’s pluralism. “Pluralism doesn’t mean that everyone is right in morality any more than it means everyone is right in French.”

The lecture ended with some thoughts one how to responsibly approach the topic of moral Truth. Here are some of the notes from Willard's powerpoint presentation:

Doing So Responsibly
-Would be to critically and thoroughly show the weight of evidence for the rightness and wrongness of kinds of actions, and for the goodness and badness of character traits and persons.

Responsible Intellect
-People of intellect and erudition today blindly reject the person and teachings of Jesus.
-They do not give serious consideration to Him but live in prejudice.
-Responsible intellect will test the truth about Him and the truth of His teachings.

"There are a whole range of things just written off, especially in morality."
Our alternative? We basically teach that pleasure and freedom are the ultimates in life.

Willard closed warning that
The moral teachings blindly conveyed by the practice of the contemporary university.
1. Imperil the lives of individuals, and
2. Undermine the moral foundations of institutions.

In the Q&A sessions following the lecture, Dr. Willard said two of my favorite things of the entire Forum.
In our culture we have tended to restrict knowledge to what you cannot disagree about--it lays a terrible burden on knowledge. . . I do think we have to find another standard of knowledge than agreeable.

I hope those who've been able to follow the Forum on here a bit have enjoyed Dr. Willard's 'guest-posting'. I'm very glad to have been able to attend as much of Veritas as I was, and I find myself left with many helpful reminders and a very solid appreciation for an author whose books I've not so much as cracked (yet).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Veritas Forum: Day 2

The first official segment of the Veritas Forum with Dallas Willard kicked off Monday at lunch, entitled Why Are U Here in the U? Could It Be the Good, the True, and the Beautiful? Just like the title would have you think, this lecture felt like something from a Classical philosophy class. Dr. Willard’s main contention in the lecture was that the topics of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful are no longer addressed in the university setting, leaving “the primary value of life in the domain of the irrational, the sentimental, with no standards really to go by.” His hope in the lecture was to have us as undergraduate students begin to use these three as ways of organizing our experiences and to make more intentional decisions while keeping these three in mind.

Fine, so what are the Good, the True, and the Beautiful really?

Willard offered a traditional view of the good: “the good is what makes life as a whole hang together harmoniously.”
One’s will must be guided by what is good. In a sensual culture like our own, where things are constantly being hailed as good, despite their offering little goodness to the consumer, this can be a treacherous guide. Dr. Willard offered two words on this: first, we must remember the difference between will and desire; secondly, we must recognize that “Goodness is not just a matter of what we enjoy, but who we become.”
Will he described as making choices between alternatives that are good, better, best. Desire, in contrast, is rooted in immediacy and pleasure. During the closing Q&A session Willard touched on the importance of teaching this difference to children: the greatest need for a child is to discover that what they desire isn't really what they want. If they don't realize this, they will never grow up; I think a glance at the lives of many of our celebrities will illustrate this well enough. He also warned us of history's accounts of those cultures which turn pleasure and feeling into ultimate values.
For the idea of Goodness being related to ontology ("what we become"), Willard could do little more, or better, than pointing to some of the men who've already tried to answer the question "who is really a good person?"--Plato, Aristotle, and Kant were mentioned. We must think deeply on these writings and study them carefully.

Next, Willard turned to Truth, veritas. This is another great value of humanity, yet is seldom really approached in a university classroom. He noted quickly that many people are afraid of Truth because they've been abused in its name. People must be allowed space to think through and come to Truth on their own. This is the only way to handle knowing and sharing truth, for "you can’t make people know anything, but you can help them come to know things."
Like Sunday night, here Willard appropriately put heavy emphasis on the resolve of Truth: "Truth doesn’t adjust to our feelings, it’s there regardless of what you may want to be the case." Interestingly, he also had a lot to say about the peculiar situation we find ourselves in today where we seem to feel that falsehood is many times necessary, often feeling we can't "afford" the truth. This begs the question: what kind of world is it where you can actually do what is right and not worry about the consequences? This is a question to which he would return in closing.

Finally Dr. Willard looked at Beauty. "Beauty is goodness made manifest to the senses." This definition points to the power of beauty--we surround ourselves with it because it is goodness. "Beauty strengthens what is good and what is true."
Of course Dr. Willard lamented that much of contemporary art has forsaken beauty; we tend to use whether or not you can sell something as art for a standard. As an alternative he offered us this measure: "A good test of art is its effect on you: are you exalted or excited? Is your desire to do what is good and faithful strengthened by the art around you?"

In closing we arrived back at the question: What kind of world is it where Goodness, Beauty, and Truth are safe, safe to follow, so that if you give your life to these you would actually have a life of Goodness, Beauty, and Truth?
His answer: A world that is presided over by a God who is Good, True, and Beautiful. Power resides with God. In the end, he’s the one that assures you that if you trust him, these aspirations will be reached.
“These things are a part of objective reality, and you know them as such when you enter into the Kingdom of God.”

The final session that I was able to attend was Monday's night's wonderful lecture on Moral Truth. I'll have up the overview of it by tomorrow night, if time permits.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Veritas Forum: Day 1

Well, tonight kicked off the 2008 Veritas Forum at LSU, Dr. Dallas Willard's Radical Relevant U. Tonight's "student-focused pre-forum special event" was pretty accurately entitled The Value of Truth, And What Happens When U Don't Have It. This was essentially a college ministry Sunday night service with Willard preaching; the sermon(I suppose you'd call it that) aimed at defining "truth", showing its importance and that the modern academic environment has insulated itself from it.

Willard kicked off by defining truth:
Truth is very simple. It is accuracy of representation.
"Please don't lose that."
A major theme tonight was that "believing doesn't make things true or false--reality makes things true or false." Willard denied the concept of relative truth again and again, and first, jokingly, by encouraging us all to try out the ideology out on an empty gas tank. This might seem like an unfair comparison to the proponent of relativism, but if one must admit to absolute truth, such as the paucity of gas in the tank, then frankly I don't see how one could perfectly dismiss any other absolute truths.
Apparently Willard would not use the phrase absolute truth(he told me later that he tried to avoid "absolute"), but would simply say "knowledge", which he defined as "established truth".
You know something if you are able to represent, think of it, deal with it, as it is, on an appropriate basis of thought and/or experience.

He then moved onto the value of truth.
Truth allows us to deal with reality successfully, if we know it and act upon it.
He also quickly noted here the popular form of a saying of Christ's that we see today: "the truth shall set you free." The condition of first knowing the truth is now oftentimes conspicuously absent. He also noted another recent change--that in Harvard's slogan, veritas is seen, but the words "Christ" and "church" have been removed; they are no longer associated with the "accuracy of representation" of reality, as was once the case.

Next we moved on into a major topic of the evening: the impotency of the modern university to address truth.
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges Handbook asserts that "an institution of higher education is, by definition, dedicated to the search for truth and its dissemination." Yet, Willard counters, while it was once assumed that universities answered the "big questions" of life, this is no longer the case; instead, university courses simply meet requirements, and if we aren't careful this "slips into a place of first emphasis".
A. T. Kronman's work was referenced in regards to all of this.

Briefly, a few more points:
People reject knowledge and truth because it restricts their freedom and does not suit their feelings.
Again and again Willard stressed that truth does not "adjust itself" to our desires, choices, etc.

God has left a gap between reality and choice that human beings can choose.
The most perfect evidence of this is, of course, the Garden of Eden.

Character is the issue.
Our human challenge is to master desire on behalf of what is good and right.
The case of Cain. “Sin’s desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 4:7
God’s plan for each of us is that we should grow to the point where He can empower us to do what we want.

Though he did not elaborate much on this last sentence in the service, he later pointed out to a young lady that he is here meaning "what we want" in the same sense of the Aristotelian "that at which all things aim", i.e., the good, as opposed to what we desire.

Finally, he offered us what he considers to be the four "big questions", or the "great teachings":
1. What is reality?
2. Who is well off?
3. Who is a really good person?
4. How can one become a really good person?

Willard did not hesitate to say that he felt that the teachings of Christ answered all these questions(unlike the university), and in the Q&A session was obliged to offer several scripture references wherein some of Christ's answers could be found.

After the service I had the chance to talk to Dr. Willard briefly--in case you were wondering, the man has an extremely firm handshake. I asked him what he thought about Charles Williams's "no one can possibly do more than decide what to believe", and if he felt we could have actual knowledge(by his definition) about the claims of Christianity. I enjoyed his response: if someone is honest with themselves then they can know there's a God, and we can know with "historical credibility" that Christ resurrected. Further Christian ideas, he said, like Trinitarian doctrine or ideas about justification, we may not be able to know, but if he is right about the two that he affirmed, well that's certainly a good start. He also went on to talk about Kierkegaard a bit and how he disagreed with much of the modern consensus concerning the "leap of faith" in S.K's thought, but that's a whole other topic, perhaps for some other post.

On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed this precursor to the Forum. I know that this was a whirlwind trip--and not without omissions--through a rather long and full lecture(I took 5 pages of notes!), so if you have any questions or would have me elaborate on anything, then by all means, comment away! Otherwise, check back in at the wardrobe tomorrow, as Dr. Willard will be kicking off the actual series.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Coming Soon! and a quote

I just wanted to give everyone a heads up that starting this Sunday night the 2008 Veritas Forum at LSU would be under way, and Dr. Dallas Willard will be this year's lecturer. Between Sunday, Monday and Tuesday Dr. Willard will be delivering 5 lectures, at least 4 of which I'm hoping to attend. Also, for your reading pleasure, I intend to blog through the forum, offering lecture summaries, quotes, and whatever else I can at the close of each day. So swing by the wardrobe next week for that.

For now, I wanted to post a lengthy, ridiculously fun quote from Either/Or. The first volume of the book, from which this snippet is taken, was written by a man known only as "A", while the whole of Either/Or was compiled and edited by Victor Eremita. "A" is a hedonist and a strict aestheticist and I don't think that I agree with anything he has asserted thus far--nevertheless, it's a pleasure to read. Enjoy!

Why "Boredom is the root of all evil."

The history of this can be traced from the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored, and so they created man. Adam was bored because he was alone, and so Eve was created. Thus boredom entered the world, and increased in proportion to the increase of population. Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored together; then Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were bored en famille; then the population of the world increased, and the peoples were bored en masse. To divert themselves they conceived the idea of constructing a tower high enough to reach the heavens. This idea is itself as boring as the tower was high, and constitutes a terrible proof of how boredom gained the upper hand. The nations were scattered over the earth, just as people now travel abroad, but they continued to be bored. Consider the consequences of this boredom. Humanity fell from its lofty height, first because of Eve, and then from the Tower of Babel. What was it, on the other hand, that delayed the fall of Rome, was it not panis and circenses?* And is anything being done now? Is anyone concerned about planning some means of diversion? Quite the contrary, the impending ruin is being proclaimed. It is proposed to call a constitutional assembly. Can anything more tiresome be imagined, both for the participants themselves, and for those who have to hear and read about it? It is proposed to improve the financial condition of the state by practicing economy. What could be more tiresome? Instead of increasing the national debt, it is proposed to pay it off. As I understand the political situation, it would be easy for Denmark to negotiate a loan of fifteen million dollars. Why not consider this plan? Every once in a while we hear of a man who is a genius, and therefore neglects to pay his debts--why should not a nation do the same, if we were all agreed? Let us then borrow fifteen millions, and let us use the proceeds, not to pay our debts, but for public entertainment. Let us celebrate the millennium in a riot of merriment. Let us place boxes everywhere, not, as at present, for the deposit of money, but for the free distribution of money. Everything would become gratis; theaters gratis, women of easy virtue gratis, one would drive to the park gratis, be buried gratis, one's eulogy would be gratis; I say gratis, for when one always has money at hand, everything is in a certain sense free. No one should be permitted to own any property. Only in my own case would there be an exception. I reserve to myself securities in the Bank of London to the value of one hundred dollars a day, partly because I cannot do with less, partly because the idea is mine, and finally because I may not be able to hit upon a new idea when the fifteen millions are gone...

* bread and circuses

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

on Genesis 1

Last Friday at the weekly Bible study I co-lead we took a look at some of the alternate--by that I mean non-literal--interpretations of the creation account in Genesis.

We started off by reading the creation narrative of chapter 1 and on into 2, and then reading these two 'mystery' quotes:
And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that any one doubts that these figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.
I have therefore no difficulty in accepting, say, the view of some scholars who tell us that the account of Creation in Genesis is derived from earlier Semitic stories which were pagan and mythical.
Any guesses?

These two come from Origen (On Principle Things, Book IV, 16) and C. S. Lewis (Reflections on the Psalms), respectively. I picked them mainly to show the group two things: 1) that these interpretations are not some new, Post-Enlightenment trend--On First Principles is early 3rd Century--and 2) that they're not just the ideas of some crazy, liberal, heretical modernists (for Lewis's views on the relation of myth and truth, especially in the Christian context, see his essay Myth Became Fact). I admit I was taking advantage of the fact that just about everyone likes Lewis.

We went on from there to discuss the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian creation epic which may be as old as 18th Century BC, and also which is pointed to by many text critics as a likely source for much of the narrative of Genesis 1), the role genre plays in criticism, and the different types of truth, emphasizing that scientific, empirical datum is not the sole contender to that throne.
I taught this lesson to prevent, at least in our group, anyone's going through college without ever having to really consider this sort of view of scripture. If you've not wrestled with this, then you're certainly not ready for much of the contention that is out there.

The topic of Evolution never came up in the discussion, though it was brought up amongst the few of us left after the study had 'officially' ended, and a friend of mine made a point then that I don't think I'd ever considered before. I had mentioned earlier how I didn't feel that the issue of creation should really be as important a topic in the church as it is, since, beyond the theological, anthropological, and (I suppose) social ramifications, it really doesn't matter how the thing happened or was recorded. He began to make this same point about Evolution, except with one additional observation: if the conservative-evangelical community continues to put this immense weight on Creation-versus-Evolution, what will happen when the evolution theory wins? when some irrefutable evidence, without holes or gaps surfaces? 
I think I know what will happen; the fundamentalists will have two choices: 1) to completely reject the scientific method as a means to any sort of truth, or 2) to watch as the faith crumbles. Over an issue of little real concern, they'll see people lose their faith by the tens, or hundreds, of thousands. All because they are not willing to tackle a few textual issues.
This is a terrifying scenario. This is also why I'll continue teaching such Bible studies, though they'll always have their dissenters.
In the meantime, we must pray. Pray for wisdom for the believer and the unbeliever, and pray for the church, that rather than hanging all our hopes on some natural evidence of a super-natural God, we will pour our energies into answering the call of Christ, denying ourselves, taking up our crosses daily, and following. That will glorify our Father far more than any pseudo-scientific bickering on Earth, and it will show His love to the unbelieving world FAR more clearly.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Planet Narnia

I've stumbled onto several articles here lately (here are two, from Touchstone and CT) concerning Dr. Michael Ward's new book Planet Narnia. The book is the latest in a long line of attempts to identify the foundational conceit beneath Lewis's 7-book Narnian Chronicles; some attempts in the past have equated the seven books to the seven days of creation, the seven sacraments, even the seven books of Spenser's The Faerie Queen. Ward's suggestion is that the books are tied to the medieval astronomical views of the seven planets, and, at least according to the book's reviews, Dr. Ward's scholarship backs this up very well.

Check out the articles if you'd like to read more about the premise--I for one have the book on order, and am looking forward to making my own assessment of the Lewisian scholar's work.