Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

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Book review: Stanley Hauerwas, The Work of Theology

Work of TheologyI’m not honestly sure how well known Stanley Hauerwas is here in the UK. He has been referred to as America’s most celebrated living theologian, and has also been described as “one of the world’s most influential living theologians”. Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke University, and during his illustrious career has penned well over 40 books.

I am mainly aware of Hauerwas because I have a good number of theologically minded American friends. I have The Hauerwas Reader on my shelf and dip into it from time to time, but up to now had not read any substantive work of his from cover to cover. (I had read his Cross-Shattered Christ, but that is a devotional rather than a scholarly work of theology.) Being something of an armchair theologian, when I saw that he had a new book coming out titled The Work of Theology, I was keen to read it to see what useful lessons I could learn from Hauerwas’s long and esteemed career as a theologian and public intellectual.

I suppose I expected this book – just from its title – to be some kind of treatise or gathered reflection on what theology is. On one level, I was disappointed, because the book is a lot more complex than that. But on another level, I was very satisfied: it does indeed act as a kind of survey or primer of theology – what it is, why it matters, and what the theological state of affairs is in the world today – just not in the format I expected.

To structure the rest of this brief review, I’ll describe The Work of Theology using three adjectives: academic, referential and practical.

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The essence of sin

The essence of sin is the fear of the Other, which is part of the rejection of God. Once affirmation of the ‘self’ is realised through the rejection and not the acceptance of the Other — this is what Adam in his freedom chose to do — it is only natural and inevitable for the other to become an enemy and a threat. Reconciliation with God is a necessary precondition for reconciliation with any ‘other.’

— Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon

Inherently, objectively, totally, and forever

You are inherently, objectively, totally, and forever a daughter or son of God. You cannot gain that or lose that by any achievement or failure whatsoever. God doesn’t participate in the honor/shame system. Christianity’s role is always to tell you that you are objectively a child of God! Our primary job is to keep proclaiming the true identity of things, and not to create contests whereby some few can attain their identity—if they are good enough.

— Richard Rohr

Come to the table

I come to the table —

– knowing I am a sinful man
– knowing I am not for one moment worthy to eat or drink
– deeply aware that I cannot pull myself up by my bootstraps to make myself look deserving

— and yet, knowing that You have spread a table before in the presence of my enemies.

Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live.

— Isaiah 55:1-3

A Sunday morning prayer

Inspiring Word,
move over the chaos within me,
calling forth form and order,
that I may know you in my shaping,
and in the shaping,
surrender my life to yours.

Illuminating Word,
pierce the darkness within me,
calling forth insight and understanding,
that I may know you in my seeing,
and in seeing,
follow the way of your kingdom.

Incarnate Word,
indwell the life within me,
calling forth passion and purpose,
that I may know you in my living,
and in living,
embody you for the world.

— Source: Christian Aid

A song for advent

I was looking for a video of a song to share with you at the beginning of this Advent season, when I came across this wonderful instrumental version of O come, O come Emmanuel by The Piano Guys. The words are below. Enjoy.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

On understanding the Bible:
part 2

This is the second instalment in a series of uncertain duration: I’m making this up as I go along, folks! The first part can be found here.

In the first post in this series, we introduced the idea that, far from being a single book, the Bible is a library of books of various types. We also began to explore the notion of truth and divine inspiration, particularly in light of some apparent inconsistencies and contradictions found in scripture. Briefly, we drew two conclusions: (i) to say that the Bible is divinely inspired cannot mean that it is in all cases literally accurate; and (ii) the kind of truth the Bible is intended to convey is not in all cases literal truth.

As promised, we’ll now go on to take a brief look at some other types of texts found in the Bible and the kinds of truths they are intended to convey.

There’s no “official” classification of literary genres in the Bible; if you do a Google search for “genres in the Bible”, you’ll come up with a whole range of proposed classifications. Wikipedia offers quite a thorough categorisation.

But let’s try to keep things simple. I’m going to pick five of the main types of literature found in the Bible, together with some thoughts on what kinds of truth they are intended to convey and, by implication, how we should read them. There are more than five genres in the Bible, but I’m limiting myself to five for the sake of space. Also bear in mind that these are just my informed thoughts; this is is not meant to be an exhaustive or authoritative analysis. Finally, I apologise if I’m teaching you to suck eggs; a basic appreciation of genre is vital to any attempt to understand the Bible, so it’s worth spending some time to lay foundations.

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