Friday, September 28, 2007

Why do we do that?

The work of Louis Althusser ["Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, 1971] on ideology offers another important way of examining how consent is created among subjects—indeed, how subjects are created in such a way that it is difficult for them to question self-evident notions and practices and hence makes it hard to resist them. One of Althusser’s most important insights is that ideology is not to be understood as a set of ideas alone but rather as practices. In other words, ideology has a material and an embodied existence in the practices through which people enact it, and thereby live it, on a daily basis. Ideology is inculcated into every state subject, according to Althusser, through what he calls Ideological State Apparatuses, or ISAs. These ISAs consist of multiple institutions or locations through which a dominant ideology is instilled into people from birth onward; examples include the family, religious institutions, and schools. ISAs are especially effective at creating unquestioning subjects, says Althusser, because the various institutions that make them up are both multiple and hence mutually reinforcing and because these institutions appear to be dedicated to very different ends, so that people are unaware that they are being molded according to a particular ideology. ISAs instill a dominant ideology not just by promulgating particular ideas about the world (ideological content) but also through particular formalized embodied actions: for example, the proper way to behave when in a public library; or, to cite Althusser’s famous example, when one performs a ritual action such as kneeling in a church, one becomes in some sense a believer. Althusser argues that as a result of internalizing a dominant ideology in these ways, subjects become effectively interpellated by ideology. In other words, each and every person feels directly interpellated, or “hailed,” by the dominant ideology and thus conforms to it virtually automatically. Althusser’s concern with embodied practices has been echoed in a wide range of literatures, including those concerned with performance, tradition, and ritual.

Althusser’s conception of ideology has its problems: most importantly, the implication that people are unthinkingly duped into acting in accordance with a single dominant ideology, leaving little theoretical space to understand how resistance, change, and withdrawal of consent are possible. Nonetheless, his work does help to point the way toward understanding how people’s daily actions—the most mundane aspects of how they live their lives as well as the unusual and theatrical (the state ritual on which Kertzer focuses)—come together to produce state subjects who often consent, willingly or not, to a dominant ideology. Incorporating Scott’s insights allows us to think of this consent not as absolutely unquestioning but as an acquiescence that does not openly question, or at least not to the point of refusal to participate. Subordinates go along, at least publicly, because they know they will bear the consequences if they do not. Unlike Scott, who sees this grudging consent principally as a product of actual or threatened repression, Althusser shows how mundane daily practices produce subjects who have imbibed ideological understandings so deeply that, often, little repression is required in order to make them conform. In this way, his insights offer an extension to Kertzer’s focus on public ritual."—Representations of Political Power, pages 92-93

<idle musing>
OK; that's a mouthful, but a very important mouthful. I think it explains only too well why we do what we do—depravity aside. We are being programed by society, via what we read, watch, listen to, etc., to act in a certain way. As Christians, it is our responsibility to examine all of these in light of scripture and in prayer. To quote a friend of mine, "Does a fish know it is wet?" We don't usually stop to examine our lives; after all, we are running at 200 MPH already, who has time to stop and think!

To blindly assume that what is tradition, even in the church, is correct is wrong. To assume it is incorrect is just as wrong, but that doesn't seem to be a common problem :) To assume that because something is labeled "Christian" makes it so, is a mistake; we are to be "as wise as serpents, but innocent as doves." We are to be transformed by the internal working of the Spirit, not by the external working of culture.
</idle musing>

By the way, thanks to Michael for extracting this quote from the PDF; it would have taken me forever to type it. The advantages of working for a publisher!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Knowledge equals action?

“. . .cognitive behaviorists teach that is we get things right in our mind we will behave accordingly. With respect to spiritual formation, then, the theory goes like this: the more Bible we learn, the better Christians we should be; the more theology we grasp, the better we will live. Before I say something ridiculous for some of my readers, let me make it clear that I’m a Bible-believing and theologically informed evangelical moderate (I could add a few more labels if needed). But we also need to make this clear: knowing more Bible doesn’t necessarily make me a better Christian. I’ve hung around with enough nasty Bible scholars and enough mean-spirited pastors to know that knowing more Bible does not inevitably create a better Christian. And I’ve known plenty of loving Christians who don’t know the difference between Matthew and John, let alone the differences between Kings and Chronicles.

“The cognitive behaviorist approach denies a biblical theory of the Eikon. We are made as Eikons, we cracked the Eikon (through our will), and the resolution of the problem of cracked Eikons is not simply through the mind. It is through the will, the heart, the mind, and the soul—and the body, too. No matter how much Bible we know, we will not be changed until we give ourselves over to what Augustine called ‘faith seeking understanding.’ The way of Jesus is personal, and it is relational, and it is through the door of loving God and loving others. The mind is a dimension of our love of God (heart, soul, mind, and strength), but it is not the only or even the first door to open.”— A Community Called Atonement, page 144-145.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


“One of the first things we need to see about the faith of Christians is that they had their Christian faith before they had the Bible. Telford Work, a gifted scholar, makes just this point:

While the Bible is basic to Christianity, it is also marginal—in that God alone occupies the center of the faith, and that both belief in God and the believing community predate and will succeed Scripture’s present forms and roles.[Living and Active, page 316]

“At the center of the Christian faith is the Trinity, and the gospel and atonement are about restoring cracked Eikons to this Trinitarian God. Beginning our understanding of Scripture with the Trinity is to claim the personal nature of everything Christian. Whenever the Bible replaces the Trinity, we have bibliolatry. The first Christians believed that God’s story entered a new chapter with Jesus, and they were living in that story before they sat down to write it. So we need to get this straight: our faith finds expression in Scripture but that faith is in the Trinitarian God and not in the Bible. Our faith is in the Bible in the sense that in it we hear the Trinitarian God whom we have come to know.”—A Community Called Atonement, Page 143

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Real eschatology

“The Revelation of St. John, regardless of the sort of eschatology one brings to the text, is driven by two themes: that someday God will establish justice and that this justice will be established, ironically, by the Lamb, the one who suffered injustice, who will be on the throne, reversing every form of unjust power ever seen.”— A Community Called Atonement, p. 132

Monday, September 24, 2007

Return from Vacation

We got back from vacation on Tuesday night, as you probably gathered from the resumption of posts on Wednesday. We spent the 2 weeks visiting our daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids in Grand Marais, MN, and our son in Bloomington, MN.

We had a grand time. Ryan, Joel, and I spent 3 days backpacking on the Superior Hiking Trail. Ryan and I did a section of it last year from Lutsen to Grand Marais. This year we started at the west end of the Split Rock loop and hiked to Highway 1, about 34 miles. Well, actually for us it was closer to 35 or 36, since we took a wrong turn in Tettegouche State Park and followed the wrong trail for over a half mile before discovering our error. I won’t say who missed the turn, but I’ve known him all my life : )

This part of the trail is more heavily traveled than the part we did last year, but that is probably because it is closer to Duluth. There are some beautiful Lake Superior overlooks where you can see across the lake to Wisconsin and the Apostle Islands. There are also several beautiful overlooks on inland lakes. Joel took some pictures at Bear Lake which I hope to post once he gets them back (no, I didn’t take a camera; I always forget I have one).

After the backpacking, I got to spoil my 2.5 year old grandson and 7 month old granddaughter. Joshua likes to play “apple basketball” which consists of taking windfall apples (of which there are many) and giving them to you to throw through the hoop. He tries too, with hilarious results. The apples are good for about 2 tosses before they come apart on the concrete.

From there we journeyed to Bloomington. We stayed with some friends of Ryan’s, Kevin and Martha. We had a good time with them, talking, biking, and playing with a variety of musical instruments. Ryan is a part of the Bethany House of Prayer and lives on the Bethany campus. Thursday night he and a few others always gather at the gazebo on campus and have a time of singing and prayer. We got there about 8:30 and stayed until midnight, when the curfew shut them down. Nick managed to break two strings on his guitar, but someone else went back to their room and got another guitar for him. He told us he only breaks strings when he plays with Ryan, due to Ryan’s forceful drumming.

Sunday night we moved a piano for another friend of Ryan’s. I haven’t moved a piano for a while, but we had a four-wheeled dolly and enough people, so it went well. Afterwards, Debbie and I talked for a long time to the mom about living dead to self and alive in Christ Jesus, while the others used the piano to “sing and make melody unto the Lord” in another room. Later they joined us as we continued the theme until the wee hours of the morning.

It was a good vacation, but it is good to be back, too. Now, if I can just get out from under all the backlogged e-mails and blog posts. . .

Friday, September 21, 2007

What is justice?

“For the follower of Jesus, justice is not defined by the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, Kant’s categorical imperative, or any other social formation of law. It is defined by Jesus by the Spirit—and we learn of its Spirit-directedness through the Bible.

“Some will say that this is too religious, that it is too Christian, or that it is not practicable for a pluralistic society. I care about none of those criticisms, not because I don’t think working in the public square requires common sense and even agreement on the U.S. Constitution for amicable discourse, but because we need as Christians to recover what we think the Bible says ‘justice’ really is: the conditions that obtain when humans are right with God, with self, with others, and with the world.”—A Community Called Atonement, p. 125

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Limited atonement?

“So I conclude that the Bible does teach penal substitution: Jesus identified with us so far ‘all the way down’ that he died our death, so that we, being incorporated into him, might partake in his glorious, life-giving resurrection to new life. He died instead of us (substitution); he died a death that was the consequence of sin (penal). But, here again, this is not enough; it is just not enough to express atonement through the category of penal substitution.

“If we limit atonement to this category, we have an atonement that is nothing more than an important theodicy: it explains how God can eliminate sin justly, but it only explains the wrath-to-death problem, and that is not all there is to atonement.”— A Community Called Atonement, p. 113

<idle musing>
OK, I know the title of this post is misleading...but I did it on purpose. I figured it might get people to read the quote, and it is worth reading. Atonement is far more than a legal fiction, far more than a "wrath-to-death problem." Atonement is Christ for us; Christ in us...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In Christ

“Everything good happens to the Christian by virtue of union with Christ. Nothing makes this clearer than the ‘in Christ’ theme of Paul’s letters...Jesus identifies with us and we gain access to everything he is by being incorporated into him, by entering into this ‘in Christ’ realm. Every theory of the atonement emerges from this central, life-giving identification for incorporation Atonement is what happens to a human being who is united with Christ. Union with Christ, in other words, is the foundation of atonement, and those who are so in union form the new community where cracked Eikons can be restored to God, self, others, and the world.”— A Community Called Atonement, pages 109-110 (italics his).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More than juridical

“To affirm a juridical element in the atonement does not mean, however that we should reduce the atonement to juridical elements, to law court scenes, or to notions of personal forgiveness of sins. When I speak about the juridicizing of the atonement, I have in mind a form of reductionism that limits the divine-human relationship to juridical categories, and that views the cross solely in terms of laws, infractions, judicial pronouncements, forgiveness, and punishment”—Hans Boersma, quoted in A Community Called Atonement, p. 95

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

And they're off!

Yep, I'm off on vacation for 2 weeks, visiting kids and grandkids in Minnesota. Debbie and I are looking forward to it. As part of the fun, Ryan (our son), Joel (son-in-law), and myself are going backpacking for a few days. We were planning on hiking the Border Route Trail, but Joel found out yesterday that it is closed because of the drought. Apparently there is no water along the trail and they don't want hikers dehydrating. So, it looks like we will be hiking along the Superior Hiking Trail again. Mind you, it is 200+ miles long and we only did about 50 of it last year, so it will be a new section :) From what I can see, there is a shortage of water on it too, but there are enough beaver ponds and bigger rivers that we should be alright.

I may or may not have Internet during the next 2 weeks, so this blog may lie fallow for that time.

Double imputation

"If I may be so bold, the singular contribution of the Reformation doctrine of atonement and justification was that of double imputation. Justification is the courtroom declaration of God that an individual human is forgiven and in good standing with God. This declaration could occur, the Reformation thinkers argued, because of God;s imputing a human's sin to Christ and then imputing Christ's active obedience and righteousness to that human. A consistent understanding of the Reformation's theory of justification is that it is bound up with double imputation.

"I not only agree with double imputation, I up it. I think being 'in Christ' involves multiple imputations: every thing we are is shuffled to Christ and all that Christ can offer is shuffled to us. It is that big. he became what we are so that we could become what he is..."—A Community Called Atonement, p. 90 (italics his)

<idle musing>
Amen to that. I am convinced that we sell the atonement short, stopping with mere forensic statements of righteousness. The atonement is much more than a forensic decision; it is new life! New life in Christ—death to self in order that we might experience the true life of Christ in us. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1
</idle musing>

Monday, September 03, 2007

Why Passover instead of Yom Kippur?

“By choosing Passover instead of Yom Kippur to explain his death, Jesus chooses the images of divine protection and liberation. He offers himself—in death—to absorb the judgment of God on behalf of his followers so he can save his people from their sins. His is the blood of the lamb that will secure his followers for the kingdom of God.

“No one would argue that this is all there is to the death of Jesus, but one must begin right here: Jesus’ act at the Last Supper declares that his death is atoning, that his blood is like the Passover blood, that his blood absorbs the judgment of God against sin and systemic violence, that his death will save and liberate his followers from their own sins, and that his death will create the new covenant community around him.”—A Community Called Atonement, p. 86