Augustine

This tag is associated with 10 posts

Really Recommended Posts 3/18/16- women in church history, video games, and more!

postHere we have another round of posts for your reading, friends. Topics range from parenting gamers to Augustine, from women in church history to talking about abortion. As always, let me know what you think, and be sure to let the authors of the individual posts know as well!

Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on St. Augustine– We need to be aware of thinkers from the past for a number of reasons: so we don’t repeat mistakes made in the past, so that we don’t have to re-learn what was learned before, so we can have our biases challenged across time, and many more. Here’s a post that helps us do just that by introducing, concisely, the thought of Augustine, one of the greatest luminaries of all time.

A Parent’s Guide to Living with Gamers– Some parents may express concern about their kids playing video games. Here are some helpful thoughts from a Christian perspective for parents of gamers.

Women in Church History: Footnoted and Forgotten?– Too often, women’s voices are ignored. Here is a post highlighting some women throughout church history. Be sure to also check out a series of women in church history at a different blog that starts with early church history and the Desert Mothers.

Apologia Raido and the Defamation of Tony Lauinger: A Call for an Apology– There are different schools of thought regarding the pro-life movement, and this post is revealing as to how these schools of thought differ radically on method of engagement in law and in person.

Book Review: “The Analogy of Faith” by Archie J. Spencer

af-spencer

A question which we don’t often stop to think about in theological discussions is whether or not it is, in principle, possible to speak of the divine. Archie Spencer’s book, The Analogy of Faith, asks just this question and offers an in-depth analysis of various approaches alongside proposing a model for speaking about God.

The book is split, roughly, between analysis of various proposed models for speaking about God and a development of a Christocentric model for speaking of the divine.

The analysis of Aristotle’s analogy of being in the first chapter is particularly interesting. Spencer notes that because Aristotle’s analogy depends upon the interrelatedness of things through cause, and because God is the ultimate relation of causation as the unmoved mover, his concept of analogy is ultimately almost useless. The reason is because it becomes too broad: effectively anything can be related to anything else through an analogy of relation, and then this tells us nothing about the things being related themselves. Yet even here Spencer argues that Aristotle’s concept of analogy–itself reliant upon Plato in many relevant ways–can be useful in that it relates causality and the divine ideas, thus preparing the way for Neoplatonist thinking.

Following on the heals of this analysis are some fantastic insights into Augustinian and Thomistic thought about analogy as well. Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the most important thinker regarding the use of analogy in speaking about God of all time. As Spencer notes, it is impossible to adequately deal with the topic without spending significant time on Aquinas’s view of analogy. However, Spencer’s ultimate analysis is that Aquinas did not have a well-developed theory of analogy of his own. Instead, he asserts, it has been the followers and interpreters of Aquinas who made a “Thomistic” theory of analogy, based around the analogy of being. Because these theories ultimately depend on an Aristotelian foundation, they, too, are found to be ultimately inadequate. After all, if we are unable to reference God’s being in any direct way, then it is difficult to see how creatures totally unlike the divine can have an analogue of that divine. Spencer’s analysis in this section is thorough and fairly convincing.

Karl Barth and Eberhard Jungel are the next thinkers addressed, and they provide a basis for Spencer’s own theory of analogy, which is Christological. I’m summarizing an extraordinarily detailed theory here, so I’m sure I’m not adequately outlining it, but the basic thought is that because God has come to us, that allows us through divine revelation of Christ to refer to God. Thus, analogy is the analogy of faith rather than an analogy of being–one in which God has condescended to allow reference to the divine being in human language, rather than one in which we are able to, by our own thinking, come to language which speaks of God.

Upon reading Spencer’s analysis and arguments, I am fairly convinced that he is correct in his notion that the analogy of being is insufficient to capture the possibility of talk about God. What I do wonder, however, is whether Spencer (and most others) too quickly dismiss the possibility of univocal language about God. It seems to me that if we are to say “God is love” then we must have some sense in which that actually relates to God. To be fair, Spencer could respond by pointing to such a statement as exactly in concord with his theory, which would assert that it does relate to God because God has revealed the divine nature to us in Christ and God’s Word, thus allowing us to rightly say “God is love.” However, I think that a deeper treatment of the possibility of univocal language related to God talk would have been appreciated in a book like this. Though, admittedly, the book is already lengthy and is specifically focused on analogy, not the possibility of univocity or equivocal language.

One minor complaint I have is that in the thoroughness of the book, it seems that Spencer is sometimes repetitive. He hits the same point from several different angles in the same chapter, to the point that the book can become quite dry at times. However, the subject matter itself is deeply intriguing, and his full treatment of the topic makes it hard to fault him for stating a few things more than once.

Those interested in reading a dense book of philosophical theology should look no further than The Analogy of Faith by Archie Spencer. It is a deep work that demands much reflection and consideration. It is the kind of seminal writing to which one will constantly return as one thinks about the topic discussed. I can say that I learned a great deal from the book, and had my mind stretched as it hasn’t been stretched in some time. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Deep analysis of key concepts related to analogy
+Many avenues for further research
+Workable theory which offers some resolution

The Bad

-A bit too verbose at times
-Dismisses univocity a bit too quickly

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Archie Spencer, The Analogy of Faith(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Augustine on the Christian Life” by Gerald Bray

acl-brayGerald Bray’s Augustine on the Christian Life is written in a very different style from previous entries in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series–at least those that I have read. It is organized around a mere five chapters, each focusing on an aspect of Augustine’s own life: life and times of Augustine, Augustine as believer, teacher, pastor, and for today. What makes the presentation so unique is that a good portion of the first few chapters follow Augustine’s own series of thoughts from pagan to Christian, derived from his Confessions.

The focus on Augustine as Augustine makes the book quite readable, as it presents his theology in ways that are directly applied to the subject of each chapter. It reads as though it is the life story of Augustine, punctuated with his theological insights, which are themselves applied back onto Christian life in general.

The way the book is presented, however, often means that Bray spends a significant amount of time focusing on the general theology of Augustine rather than on his specific theology of the Christian life. Large portions of the book are spent outlining Augustine’s theology, without any clear application to the theology of the Christian life. Thus, there is lengthy discussion over predestination, original sin, and the like. Each gets developed in great detail, with Augustine’s thoughts laced throughout. Each is also related back to Augustine’s own life and shows how his thought was developing over time.

A good portion of the book is also spent showing Augustine’s specific exegesis of various passages, and how his holistic view of Scripture allowed him to make good points despite having often subpar manuscripts with which to work. These sections are intriguing, because they introduce readers to Augustine’s hermeneutics as specific passages demonstrate the care with which he worked with the text. Moreover, Bray notes that the influence of the allegorical method upon Augustine can be overstated, and that the method itself should not be completely ignored when it comes to reading the Bible.

The final chapter, “Augustine for Today” does much to draw all the threads together into a coherent picture of Augustine’s theology of the Christian life. Indeed, the last chapter is the one that is most similar to other books in the series. Yet it is built upon the foundation of the previous chapters, turning the work into a kind of biographical, narrative theology similar to Augustine’s Confessions themselves. It is an intriguing way to have written the book. Readers may have to work harder to gain the specific insights on the Christian life from within the book, but doing so is a pleasurable journey into the mind and heart of one of Christianity’s most important thinkers. It is as though readers are discovering the hows and whys of the Christian life right alongside Augustine, and exploring the same issues he has in drawing out the faith.

Augustine on the Christian Life is a fresh read that provides readers with insight into the whole of Augustine’s theology. Its style is different from other books in the series, but the presentation is interesting and accessible. It is well worth the time spent reading it.

The Good

+Takes advantage of the mass of personal reflection by Augustine
+Unique presentation of theology of Christian life
+Many applicable insights

The Bad

-Overly focused on Augustine’s general theology

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Gerald Bray, Augustine on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 1/10/14- Divergent, marriage, Boghossian, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneDear readers: As a thank you for stopping by, check out my latest “Really Recommended Posts.” Here, we’ll look at the Young Adult book Divergent (coming to theaters soon!), marriage, Augustine, abortion, Boghossian’s atheist propaganda, and some great free Bible inserts for apologetics. Check ’em out. As always, feel free to drop your own Really Recommended Posts by leaving a comment with your recommendation (and why). Also, feel free to leave a comment on your thoughts on any of these posts.

Free E-Book Download: Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician– Let me tell you right now, you should immediately download and start reading this free e-book. It is a response to Peter Boghossian’s A Manual For Creating Atheists. Boghossian is intentionally trying to destroy Christianity and proselytize for atheism. I have not finished the book yet, but what I have read has been excellent. It comes with my recommendation.

Divergent– Anthony Weber over at Empires and Mangers, one of my favorite sites (and one you should follow!), reviewed the YA Book Divergent. He examined it from a worldview perspective. The book is being made into a major motion picture and has been hailed by some as the “next Hunger Games.” That means we’re going to run into it everywhere. What questions can we bring to the table? There are SPOILERS in this linked post.

Modern Marriage Concerns– How might egalitarianism play out in marriage? Here, a brief post explores the nature and possible concerns regarding marriage in an egalitarian system.

A Free Bible Insert to Say Thanks for a Great 2013– Check out this link to get some great printable Bible inserts related to apologetics to tuck into the pages for quick access. I highly recommend checking them out.

Augustine’s Confessions: Some Lessons for apologetics– Augustine’s work, Confessions, is an autobiographical account of parts of his life. In it, he provides some insights into what is needed for an apologetic approach even in our church today.

‘He killed my baby !’: The day I lost my daughter to the Culture of Death– A powerful story about awakening to the wrongness of abortion.

Back-Alley Abortions, Apologetics, Male Hierarchy, and more! – Really Recommended Posts 10/18/13

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneI have given you, dear reader, this edition of “Really Recommended Posts” which is simply bulging at the seams with great content. Herein, you shall discover the myth of the back alley abortion, an analysis of male rule, sociology and religion’s impact on society, Augustine and the creation/evolution debate, and more! Check ’em out. Let me know what you think!

Is Male Rule a Biblical Ideal?– Here, Mimi Haddad confronts some of the common arguments for male rule in the church and home. These arguments include the fact that Jesus was male, that the 12 disciples were male, etc.

Sociologist Rodney Stark discusses whether religion is good for society– A highly interesting post in which a sociologist takes on claims that religion could be bad for society. Looking into the actual statistics and facts of the matter makes an extraordinary difference to one’s perception.

Pro-Choice “Facts”: Illegal Abortion Deaths– One of the very common arguments for abortion is that we need to keep such things safe. After all, if women will get abortions anyway, we should try to keep them safe. This article examines the myth of the back-alley abortion and exposes it for what it is: a fraud.

The dangers of apologetics– My wife linked me to this article which I think makes some extremely valuable points regarding the nature and practice of apologetics. I particularly liked that the author did not throw apologetics out the window but rather offered pieces of advice for apologists and what to avoid as an apologist. What are your thoughts?

Augustine’s Origin of Species– Within the creation/evolution debate, many continue to allege that one cannot consistently be a Christian and hold to certain views of the age of the universe or the origin of species. Here, Alister McGrath analyzes these claims alongside the wonderful Christian theologian, Augustine.

Signs that the New Atheist Movement May be Collapsing– A post which examines the intellectual collapse of the New Atheism. I think the most fascinating point is the third, that New Atheists are suppressing intellectual dialogue.

John Loftus Exits in Infamy– Speaking of the New Atheists, David Marshall analyzes his own recent dialogue with John Loftus, a[n] [in]famous atheist. The way the dialogue proceeded is highly telling.

If a Good God Exists: Presuppositional Apologetics and the problem of evil

It is clear that all things are ordered according to the perfect will of the Lord. If the Lord’s reasons for some state of affairs are inscrutable, does that mean that they are unjust? (Augustine, City of God Book V, Chapter 2).

The problem of evil is the most pervasive argument used against Christianity. It also causes the most doubts among Christians. I know I can attest to crying out to God over the untold atrocities which continue to happen. Yet very often, I think, we are asking the wrong question. Here, I’ll explore the ways the problem of evil is presented. Then, I’ll offer what I think is a unique answer: the presuppositional response to the problem of evil. Finally, we’ll evaluate this response.

Two Ways to Present the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is posed in a number of ways, but here I’ll outline two varieties.

The Classical/Logical Problem of Evil

God is said to be all powerful and all good, yet evil exists. Thus, it seems that either God does not want to prevent evil (in which case God is not all good) or God is incapable of preventing evil (and is thus not all powerful).

The Evidential Problem of Evil

Evil on its own may not prove that God does not exist (the logical/classical problem of evil), but it seems that surely the amount of evil should be less than what we observe. Surely, God is capable of reducing the amount of suffering by just one less child being beaten, or by one less tsunami killing hundreds. The very pervasiveness of evil makes it clear that no good God exists.

The Presuppositional Response to the Problem of Evil

One of the insights that we can gain from presuppositional apologetics is that it forces us to look at our preconceived notions about reality and how the impact our answers to questions and even the questions we choose to ask. The way that the problems of evil are outlined provides a prime example for how presuppositional approach to apologetics provides unique answers.

The presuppositional answer to these problems of evil is simple: If a good God exists, then these are not problems at all.

Of course, this seems overly simplified, and it is. But what the presuppositionalist is emphasizing is that the only way to make the two problems above make sense is to come from a kind of neutral or negative starting presupposition. The only way to say to construct the dilemma in the classical/logical problem of evil is to assume that there is not an all-powerful and all-good God to begin with. For, if an omnibenevolent, omnipotent being exists, then to say that God does not want to prevent evil seems false; while to say that God is incapable of preventing evil is also false. Thus, there would have to be a third option: perhaps God reasons for allowing evil are inscrutable; perhaps the free will defense succeeds; etc. Only if one assumes that there is no God can one make sense of the logical problem of evil to begin with.

The evidential problem of evil suffers an even worse conundrum given its presuppositions. For it once more assumes that God should do more to prevent evil, and so because God does not do more, God must not exist or must not care about evil. But who is to say that God should do more to prevent evil? Who is in a position to judge the overall evil in the world and say that there should be less? Furthermore, even assuming it were possible for there to be less evil, who knows the whole breadth of possible purposes God might have to allow for suffering and evil? The presuppositionalist agrees with the words of God in Job:

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me. Job 41:11

The answer must come with humility: no one has such a claim. There is none who can claim that God owes them one thing. Yet this is not all an appeal to God’s sovereignty. Instead, it is an appeal to God’s goodness.

The late Greg Bahnsen, a defender of presuppositional apologetics, presents the presuppositional approach to the problem of evil in his work, Always Ready:

If the Christian presupposes that God is perfectly and completely good… then he is committed to evaluating everything within his experience in light of that presupposition. Accordingly, when the Christian observes evil events or things in the world, he can and should retain consistency with his presupposition about God’s goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists. (171-172)

Thus, the strength that one assigns to the problem of evil ultimately depends quite a bit upon one’s presuppositions. If you believe you have good reason for thinking that God exists, then the problem of evil seems much less powerful than if you believe there is no good reason for thinking God exists.

Yeah… and?

Okay, so what’s the point? It may be that what we bring to the table does indeed alter our view of the problem of evil. Does that mean we are at a complete impasse? I think that this is where evidences come in, even on the presuppositional view. If all we have are presuppositions, then we are indeed stuck. But we must look at evidences to see whose presuppositions match reality. And, what we have done by centering the discussion of the problem of evil around presuppositions is to set it to the side. Surely the atheist would not suggest the Christian must abandon their presuppositions? It seems like a more rational perspective to look at the evidences. The presuppositionalist holds that when it comes to evil, it is really just a matter of presuppositions. If a Good God exists, we can trust God.

Links

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til– I explore the presuppositional method of apologetics through a case study of the man who may fairly be called its founder, Cornelius Van Til.

Debate Review: Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein– I review a debate between a prominent presuppositional apologist, the late Greg Bahnsen, and a leading atheist, Gordon Stein. It is worth reading/listening to because the debate really brings out the distinctiveness of the presuppositional apologetic.

I have explored this type of argument about the problem of evil before. See my post, What if? The “Job Answer” to the problem of evil.

I review Greg Bahnsen’s Always Ready.

Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Las_Conchas_Fire.jpg

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4

love-winsI have been reviewing Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, with a particular interest in his theological views and how he argues for those views.  I have not read the book before, so each review is fresh: I am writing these having just completed the chapter the post is on. This week, I look at Chapter 4: “Does God Get what God Wants?”

Chapter 4

Outline

Bell starts the chapter by surveying a number of statements from church’s web sites regarding hell. These statements range from the unsaved being separated from God forever to eternal conscious torment. He seems to be pointing readers towards a kind of discontinuity between these statements and the statements about God’s power and love:

I point out these parallel claims: that God is mighty, powerful, and “in control” and that millions of people will spend forever apart from this God… even though it’s written in the Bible that “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4- seems to be NIV]

…How great is God? Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do… but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great. (97-98)

Bell asks a poignant question: “Will all people be saved, or will God not get what God wants?” (98). He then goes through a number of verses focused around God’s love. He notes the parables in Luke 15 about people pursuing their desires and concludes, “The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever” (101).

Bell turns to the reason that many people think God may fail in his desire to save everyone. From the perspective of those who advocate the views he outlined at the beginning of the chapter, “love, by its very nature, is freedom… God has to respect our freedom to choose to the very end” (103). However, Bell argues that “We aren’t fixed, static beings–we change and morph as life unfolds.”

Tied into this notion of the unfixed nature of our lives, he seems to hold that it is possible that people can choose to come to Christ after they die. He asks, “why limit that chance [the chance to come to Christ] to a one-off immediately after death? And so they expand the possibilities… [The chance is given for] as long as it takes, in other words” (106-107).

Bell then traces this notion through Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Eusebius. He goes so far as to cite Augustine saying “‘very many’ believed in the ultimate reconciliation of all people to God” (108).

He argues that “central to their trust that all would be reconciled was the belief that untold masses of people suffering forever doesn’t bring God glory” (ibid). Moreover, he argues that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). He notes that “serious, orthodox followers of Jesus have answered these questions [about hell and salvation] in a number of ways” (ibid).

Next, Bell turns to an analysis of the book of Revelation. he notes that the book ends with notion that the gates of the city “never shut” and infers that “gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out. If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (114-115).

Bell ends the chapter with what seems like a poetic inference. He goes into prose and concludes that: “[Love] always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins” (119).

Analysis

There is much to discuss in this chapter. First, it is important to note that Bell has done much to cause reflection upon the subject of hell. It is something that we as a group of believers need to be thinking on. Too often, the subject is cast aside. Bell has done admirably in bringing the topic to the table.

Moreover, Bell is correct to note that confusion can be caused by simply throwing statements on hell “out there” in a void. It is important to contextualize statements about heaven and hell and make clear what is meant by the phrases that are used in the discussion.

Bell seemingly just assumes that there will be more chances to “accept Christ” in the afterlife. His discussion of the possibility of people changing after death implies this perspective, but he has done nothing to establish it. Perhaps he will do so in a later chapter, at which point we will evaluate his argument for that perspective. Indeed, thus far his argument seems to be a kind of straw man: he asserts the notion that people are changeable beings even in the afterlife as a counterpoint to those who hold that people will continue to choose evil in the hereafter as though this choice is the reason people hold to the eternal hell view. Yet this is not the case; many who hold this position do argue that people will continue to choose evil, but the reason that people are condemned to hell is because they rejected the God, whose existence and power are obvious (Romans 1) in their lives. No one has an excuse (Romans 1:20).

Bell’s utilization of church fathers is problematic. I can’t help but think there is a subtle twisting of some of their views to fit his position. In particular, he cites Augustine as “acknowledging” that “very many” believed in “ultimate reconciliation of all people” (107-108). Yet Augustine himself categorically denies and denounces this position. In fact, almost the entirety of Book XXI of The City of God argues explicitly against this tradition, including Augustine’s arguments against Origen, whom Bell cites in the same breath as Augustine. I hope Bell was merely being sloppy here, but the impression I get is really that the uninformed reader would see this and assume that Augustine is at least in the same realm as Origen, which is very, very mistaken.

I hate to beat a dead horse here, but let’s look what Augustine says (The City of God Book XXI, Chapter 17):

Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors…

So we see that Augustine, far from being anywhere near Origen’s view on the topic, endorses the Church’s condemnation of Origen as a heretic in this regard. Yet where does Bell reveal this? Where does Bell interact with historical theology? No, he seems perfectly content to throw out a bunch of names out of context together and let readers make their own assumptions. I realize this is a popular level book, but I can’t help but be very worried about Bell’s style here. It is very misleading. Maybe he does note later in the book that Origen was condemned as a heretic for this view, and that Augustine endorses this condemnation, but considering Bell seemingly endorses Origen’s view, I very much doubt that he will reveal that it was condemned by the Church.

More damning is the fact that Bell is able to, seemingly seriously, say that “At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever…” (109). I admit that I agree in one sense–there have been many universalists throughout church history. However, that view was condemned as heretical. Augustine upholds that condemnation in The City of God. One can hardly believe that Bell is capable of saying that this view is “At the center of the Christian tradition.” No, the church at large does not condemn this view as specifically heretical; but Bell is placing the view in a context in which it was condemned as heresy and then saying that it was the “center” of that tradition. That is  a stretch, to say the least.

Here again we see one of Bell’s biggest methodological problems: he simply introduces a notion, argues that there are diverse views, and then assumes that they are all equally legitimate. but this is simply mistaken. Multiplication of viewpoints does not mean they are equally valid. Furthermore, Bell’s lack of interaction with historical theology on this point, when he himself is the one who introduces several of the church fathers, is questionable at best. Moreover, he says these teachers were “orthodox” when in fact Origen specifically was far from orthodox in his beliefs, as even a cursory study of Origen would reveal. Origen lived at a time before certain views were made explicit, yes, so he in a sense gets a pass in that his theology was intentionally exploratory. However, many of his views were later condemned, including the one Bell endorses. For Bell to turn around and use Origen to support his diversity of orthodox views on the topic is seemingly dishonest.

Moreover, one must wonder about Bell’s analysis of the meaning of the gates of heaven as open. Instead of looking at this passage in context, in which the notion of a city with open gates would imply a city unthreatened by outsiders because all enemies were defeated (which fits much better into the book of Revelation), Bell states explicitly “If gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go” (115). Think on this for a moment. What Bell has stated here undermines the notion of security of salvation. Now I do not hold to the doctrine of eternal security; however, I do affirm that once people are saved and in the New Creation in heaven, they are not about to change their status. They aren’t “going” anywhere. Bell’s view here undermines the assurance of salvation. His view of “love winning” also serves to illustrate this point, for if there is “always room for the other to decide” we must ask: is there always room to choose hell? Can “love win” by letting us walk away from the eternal salvation we are promised in Christ?*

Conclusion

I admit I have been highly critical in this chapter. I have tried throughout so far to find positive things to say about Bell’s work, and as I noted, Bell does well in this chapter to center discussion around the hard questions.

However, there are numerous problems with Bell’s work in this chapter. His use of the church fathers is highly problematic. I won’t rehearse the arguments again (see above). Oddly, his view also seems to imply that we have absolute autonomy and the ability to simply walk out of heaven whenever we wish. That in itself is another great difficulty, for it undermines the assurance of salvation we have in Christ: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Bell continues to use the method of argumentation in which he simply notes diverse views on a topic and concludes that all are somehow equally at the table or equally valid.

Next week, we will look at Chapter 5: Dying to Live.

*My thanks to my wife for this point.

Links

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Cross Roads” by Wm. Paul Young- An Evangelical’s Perspective

cross roadsOne of the biggest publishing phenomena of late, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young generated discussion among people all over the world, selling over 18 million copies. I have discussed that book elsewhere, and now I turn to Cross Roads, Young’s recently released novel. Please note that this will not be a review and I will not provide a summary of the plot. Instead, I am exploring the theological and philosophical themes that Young raises throughout Cross Roads. There will be Spoilers ahead.

Free Will

The notion of crossroads is a major theme throughout the work, and Young utilizes the imagery to discuss free will metaphorically. Anthony Spencer (Tony), the main character, finds himself inside his mind, which is portrayed as a kind of land with various roads and places inside it. Initially, he begins exploring this land and finds himself coming to numerous forks in the road. He continues to find these forks and realizes that as he continues to make choices, “it occurred to Tony that the number of direction decisions was diminishing; options were significantly decreasing” (35). Young doesn’t expand on this much, but it seems like a vivid illustration of libertarian free will, wherein one’s choices in the past do indeed influence their choices in the future. As Tony makes choices on his path, he finds that the choices available to him decrease. The reason, it seems, is because his choices have started to form his world. It seems to me that this is a great way to show libertarian free will in literature.

Church

A robust theology of church and salvation is something that I think is necessary for an adequate theology. I find one reason for this illustrated well by Young:

Church, thought Tony. He hadn’t set foot inside one of those since his last foster family had been religious. He and Jake [Tony’s brother] had been required to sit silently for what seemed like hours… He smiled to himself, remembering how he and Jake had schemed together and ‘gone forward’ one night at church, thinking it would win them points with the family, which it did. The attention their conversions garnered was initially rewarding, but it soon became clear that ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ dramatically increased expectations for strict obedience to a host of rules they hadn’t anticipated. He soon became a ‘backslider,’ in a category, he discovered, that was profoundly worse than being pagan in the first place. (124)

It seems clear to me that here the act of conversion has itself become a work, rather than a gift of grace. Tony’s concept of conversion at this point in the book is that of “asking Jesus into your heart.” Unsurprisingly, when he fails to perform other adequate works–obeying a set of rules. The problem with this theology should become clear immediately. By suggesting that Christianity is about “going forward” and publicly affirming a faith, this form of theology puts the believer in the position of affirming faith, rather than receiving it as a gift. When faith becomes a public work, it becomes the Law instead of the Gospel. When demands for works are made on faith, then faith itself becomes a work. Unfortunately, this kind of works-righteousness sneaks into theology at all levels, ever seeking a place to grow.

The problems with this theology are portrayed vividly in this illustration. The notion that people need to make a public declaration of faith leads to its abuse, as Tony and Jake attempted to do, but it also leads to difficulties for those who believe their declaration was itself true (unlike Tony and Jake, who simply did it to glorify themselves in the eyes of their foster parents). When someone makes their “decision for Christ,”  their faith life becomes wrapped up in that decision. Their walk with God is contingent upon their continuing to make this decision. Unfortunately, this type of theology makes faith all about one’s own decisions, rather than Christ’s justification and the free gift of faith.

Women

There are many church bodies who do not ordain women to the office of the ministry. That is, they hold beliefs that say women should not be spiritual leaders of men in the church. Young explores this issue when Pastor Skor shows up and challenges Maggie, one of the main characters, regarding her outburst during a church service.  Pastor Skor takes Maggie’s outburst and disruptive behavior as a clue to him from God that he has been too lax in his instructing his congregation in the Bible. He makes an argument that women should not be leaders in church and should remain silent:

And we affirm the Word, which declares there is no longer male or female [Galatians 3:28], but… the Word is speaking of how God sees us, not about how we function in the church, and we must always remember that God is a God of order. It is vital that each person play their part, and as long as they stay within the roles that God has mandated, the church functions as it was meant to… (167)

The pastor goes on to quote 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to support his position. Yet Young, through Clarence, an elder who is with the pastor to talk with Maggie, provides a counter-argument to this reasoning:

It is sarcasm… I believe that the apostle Paul was being sarcastic when he wrote what you read… He is quoting a letter that these folk sent him with questions, and he is in total disagreement with what they have written to him. (168-169)

Clarence defends this position by alluding to 1 Corinthians 14:36, apparently using the KJV: “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” Given the way this verse is worded, Clarence holds that verses 34-35 are a quote from a letter the Corinthians sent to Paul which Paul then responds to sarcastically by wondering whether the Corinthians think that God’s word came only to them.

Young’s offered interpretation seems possible, but perhaps not made explicit enough. It seems to me possible that Paul would have made it more clear that he was quoting another’s writing here. The KJV seems to support the interpretation given to 1 Cor 14:36 here, but other translations phrase it differently, in such a way that the verse seems to be more of a challenge to readers to dismiss what Paul is declaring in 34-35.

Of course, one could still argue that Young’s interpretation has great strength, noting that nowhere in the Bible do we see this command in the Scripture “as the law also says” and so we may infer that Paul is referencing an extra-biblical teaching and rebutting it. In fact, this seems to line up with Young’s argument perfectly because we can see that Paul would be citing a Judaizer’s teaching in the church in Corinth–who would hold that the silence of women is taught by the Law [Jewish extra-biblical law]–and then refuting this by noting that the word of God did not come from them alone (see Katharine Bushnell’s God’s Word to Women for an extended look at this argument). It seems to me that this does have some significant strength, thus empowering Young’s argument.

Therefore, it seems to me that Young offers a fairly decent egalitarian interpretation of the passage, though he could have given other arguments which would take into account the passage’s cultural context, in which women were speaking out of turn in worship. The core of the statement seems to me to be that the women in this specific context needed to learn from their husbands at home and remain silent in church so that they did not cause disruption.

The way the scenario plays out in the book is also difficult to evaluate because Maggie definitely was disrupting the church service and would have appeared at least slightly crazy to those around her. She was screaming about a demon speaking to her and was, in fact, mistaken about that. I think she can be forgiven for her extreme reaction given the strange situation in which she found herself, but the Corinthians passage is in context all about order in worship in general, and certainly people bursting in screaming about demons would be disorderly worship.

Thus, it seems to me that Young offers a possible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, but he has made his case problematic by the narrative context in which he placed it. It is worth noting that this work will get people talking about the issue. Young has given a somewhat strong version of a lengthy egalitarian argument in the form of narrative.

Practical Ethics and Disability

Cabby, a boy with Down’s Syndrome, is featured prominently throughout the book. Young uses him as a foil to show that those with disabilities have much to contribute to modern society. Perhaps the most poignant way he does this is through the negative portrayal of Tony’s view of Cabby:

Tony had never known a ‘retarded’ person. He wasn’t sure if that is what you called them… His opinions on most nonbusiness matters may not have been founded on evidence or experience, but he was sure of them. People like Cabby were an  unproductive drain on the resources of society; they were valuable only to their families. He believed they were tolerated because of liberal persuasions, not because such people had any intrinsic worth… It is easy to create a category of persons, like retarded or handicapped, and then pass judgment on the group as a whole. He wondered if that was not the heart of all prejudice. (108-109)

In contrast to Tony’s view, Cabby turns out to be insightful and delightful. He is shown to have positive value in a number of ways that go beyond his immediate family. He ultimately shows the practical usefulness of inherent human worth.

God 

For Young, understanding God as relationship is central to the concept of deity. The concept of deity that is presented is that of Trinity. Much ink will be spilled, I feel certain, on whether or not Young portrays the persons of the Trinity correctly, just as there was in The Shack (see my own discussion here).

Young’s position seems to be largely unchanged from that in The Shack, and so much of the commentary will follow the same line. I think he does a very good job of exploring the inter-relational character of God and the temporal submission of Christ in the incarnation to God the Father. Some may see the primary difficulty with Young’s portrayal of God is that the Father makes very little appearance in the book, but near the end readers find out that is not the case. In fact, the Father is intricately involved in all aspects of God and the life portrayed in the novel.

Those who conceptualize God as inherently male will have a problem with the book, however. Unfortunately, some paganism has indeed hung on in the church, wherein some view God as a gendered being. In the Bible, however, we find that God is spirit and not a man. Thus, I think that Young’s use of gender with God may shock some but also underscores the fact that God is not a gendered being, and instead transcendent.

Historical Theology

Young offers a short discussion of historical theology and God that seems to me to at least partially miss the mark. It is very brief, but I think it is worth discussing. Young puts the following commentary in the mouth of Jesus himself:

The Greeks, with their love for isolation [of deity] influence Augustine and later Aquinas… and a nonrelational religious Christianity is born. Along come the Reformers, like Luther and Calvin, who do their best to send the Greeks back outside the Holy of Holies, but they are barely in the grave before the Greeks are resuscitated and invited back to teach in their schools of religion. The tenacity of bad ideas is rather remarkable, don’t you think? (73)

There are a number of problems with this small passage. First, Augustine heavily influenced both Calvin and Luther. In fact, Calvin’s theology is tied very intricately to Augustine’s view of free will and original sin. Similarly, Luther’s view of original sin derives directly from Augustine’s exposition in City of God. Second, it seems unfair to view Aquinas as a kind of anti-relationalist when it comes to God’s nature. Aquinas very much emphasized the triunity of God, which was (and is!) an extremely important topic. To thus accuse Aquinas of undermining God’s relational-ness seems unfair. Finally, the notion that the influence of Greek philosophy on Christianity is somehow inherently bad seems a bit shortsighted. There are innumerable positive contributions that reflection on Greek thought has brought into the fold of Christianity. Among these are the very concept of free will that Young pushes in his book, along with a number of aspects of Trinitarian and Incarnational theology that Young seems to support. This may seem to be a nitpick, but it seems to me that if Young is going to use his book to make comments about historical theology, it is vastly important to get that historical development right.

Conclusion

Cross Roads is another thought-provoking work by Young. Those who read it will be forced to think about all the topics on which it touches, regardless of whether they agree with Young’s conclusions or not. As with The Shackthis book will almost certainly be widely read. Those who are interested in Christian theology and apologetics should consider the book a must-read simply for its cultural relevance. Ultimately, Young has authored another fictional work that will inspire conversations about theology on a wide scale.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Church Universal: Reformation Review

Perhaps the most crucial debate of the Reformation Era was over the nature of the universal church. During the Reformation, the church had split into numerous separate bodies. But were each of these bodies truly “the church”? Was salvation only found through membership in the Catholic Church? Finally, how did one determine what church bodies were part of “the church” if there were some new criterion for establishing what counted as “the church”? Having found their origins prior to the Reformation and a spectrum of answers during the Reformation, these questions continue to be debated into our own time.

The Church Universal

The key to understanding the emerging doctrine of the church within the Reformation is to note a distinction in meanings for “apostolic continuity.” On the one hand, one could note a literal apostolic continuity in which the authority of the Apostles themselves was passed from one person to another. On the other hand, some argued that the authority of the church was found in continuity with apostolic doctrine, not with a literal continuity of passed-on authority (McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction 141ff, cited fully below).

The Protestants began to view church authority as a consequence of right doctrine. This view allowed them to divorce themselves from the Roman Catholic church (and thus potentially lose the literal passing down of authority from one to another from the apostles) while still maintaining that their own churches remained part of the church universal.

Yet this was not the only question facing those trying to distinguish which churches were “true” as opposed to “false” churches. Surely there ought to be some signs of a “true church” to distinguish it from those that had fallen away. Martin Bucer and Martin Luther offered ways forward on this: the marks of the church. Luther insisted that what made a true church was “right administration of the sacraments and true preaching of the Gospel” while Bucer held that there was a third mark: discipline (Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation, 181, cited below).

The Background to the Reformation Debate

Alister McGrath notes how important it is to note the origins of the reformation debate regarding the church here. Specifically, the debate can be traced back to the Donatist controversy in the earlier church (third century). Essentially, this controversy centered around the very nature of the true church. The Christian church had been persecuted, and many had renounced their faith in order to avoid persecution. The question was asked: should these persons be allowed back into the true church? Could they still administer the sacraments and interact with the true body of Christ?

The Donatists said that those who had lapsed had become apostate and could not be allowed back into the church. However this belief was eventually considered to be incorrect and detrimental to the unity of the Church. Augustine argued against the Donatists and pointed out how the church is a “mixed body” of sinners and saints (McGrath, 144ff).

The concept of a sinner-saint was utilized by Martin Luther and other Reformers to note that the church was a body in which the Holy Spirit was actively working sanctification. That is, God was working to make the Church holy, but that did not mean that each individual in the church was absolutely devoid of sin.

How did all of this fit into the Reformation discussions on the true church? Simply put, the Donatists were radically schismatic. They sought to divorce themselves from “sinners” within the church. The Donatists were condemned for their schismatism, and so the Reformers had  to deal with the fact that they themselves had either been forcibly removed from or split from the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, the importance of apostolic authority through theological unity became central in understanding the continuity of the Church.

The Modern Debates

The notion that right doctrine delineates the true church as opposed to literal apostolic continuity has a number of interesting outcomes which are very relevant for today’s church bodies.

First, it introduces a great difficulty for many church bodies in determining with whom one can fellowship. If the authority of the church universal is based upon true teachings rather than a passing down of authority from one person to another, then where is the line for how much teaching must be correct in order to remain as the true church?

Different church bodies offer different answers. Some church bodies err on the side of openness and humility and allow many into their fold who hold radically differing views. People in these organizations may hold to different views on things like the ordination of women, the age of the earth, and the like. Other church bodies err on the side of unity in doctrine and restrict membership to those that affirm sound doctrine as taught by their own body. For these church groups, a certain creed or body of work is referenced as the authoritative teaching of the church. If one differs from these teachings, then one is not part of their church body. (For more on the notion of using creeds or bodies of teachings as authoritative interpretations, see my post on “Who Interprets Scripture? Sola Scriptura, the Reformation, and the modern era.”)

To be frank, some Christians fail to recognize the diversity of these answers and simply assume that anyone who has a differing organizational structure is “liberal” or “conservative”–using the words in a derogatory manner. Such an attitude does not contribute to discussions on church organization. By failing to recognize the commendable attitude of humility in the churches that emphasize the unity of faith as opposed to the unity of individual doctrines, some unfairly label other church bodies as unbiblical or apostate. Similarly, by failing to recognize the commendable need for unity of belief in church bodies that emphasize right belief, some unfairly label these church bodies as schismatic or unchristian.

It also seems to me that both of these groups should learn from each other. Too many church groups vary too far one way or the other on these issues. Church bodies that emphasize humility in doctrine can often undermine their own church’s teachings. Similarly, church bodies that emphasize unity in doctrine can undermine their capacity for outreach and cooperation with other church bodies.

The Roman Catholic Church, following Vatican II, officially viewed non-Catholic churches as separated brethren–other bodies of true believers who were practicing independently. Such an affirmation ultimately undermines part of the debate that has raged since the Reformation: are Protestants saved, according to Roman Catholic teaching? This debate was hot during the Reformation and beyond, as the Roman Catholic church continued to deny salvation outside of the Catholic Church. Now, however, it is acknowledged that salvation can be found within Protestant circles as well.

Finally, the options Luther and Bucer offered to describe the “marks of the church” continue to be extremely important. Bucer’s emphasis on independent church discipline has–insofar as I can tell–largely fallen by the wayside, though it remains a point of interest in Anabaptist and other traditions. Although I would be hesitant to make a structured church discipline one of the marks of the true church, it would appear to be greatly important to have a system for disciplining those within the church who do not adhere to basic moral and/or doctrinal norms. However, this must be consistent with the notion that all believers are sinners being formed into saints through the process of sanctification. The modern church in the West perhaps does not have enough emphasis on the importance of church discipline, but caution should be taken so that a reform in this area does not lead the church back to a Donatist-like position.

Conclusion

So what makes a church a true church? The Reformers do still speak to us on this issue. Continuity with apostolic teaching is that which designates a true church. It is not easy to know where to draw the line between unity and humility, but over-emphasizing either leads to great difficulties for a church body. Of utmost importance, however, is the acknowledgement that though not all church bodies agree on every topic (there’s an understatement!), these church bodies are part of the saving body of Christ and therefore part of the salvific work of the Holy Spirit. Remembering this simple fact might help to spur on a bit of humility and unity among the Church Universal.

Links

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

Sources

Alister E. McGrath a, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Diarmaid MacCulloch The Reformation (New York: Penguin, 2003).

Image: credit to Beatrice- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Pietro_e_Ponte_SAngelo_(notte).jpg

Thanks

Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought: An Introduction was a gift from an anonymous donor. I was blown away when I saw it show up at my door and I have to say Thank you so much for being such a blessing! Whoever you are, you made my day. Well, more than just one day actually. This series of posts is a direct result of your donation. Thank you!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Dark Knight Rises”- A Christian Reflection

The epic tale begun with Batman Begins and continued with The Dark Knight comes to a fruition in The Dark Knight RisesBatman has always been my favorite hero (I say hero and not superhero because he has no superpowers), and I couldn’t wait to see the  finale to the trilogy I had been awaiting for some time. It didn’t disappoint. Herein, I reflect from my Christian background on the many themes in the movie.

Here’s the last warning: THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE. BIG ONES.

I’m going to eschew giving a plot summary because what I want to contribute to the conversation is a discussion on the themes. If you don’t feel like bothering with the movie, it would be good to at least know about the plot before reading this post. Check here for a brief summary.

Faith

Throughout the movie I kept noticing faith as a major theme. There were those who had maintained faith in a lie: Harvey Dent. Batman had taken the fall for him in The Dark Knight in order to provide Gotham with a needed hero. This faith was misplaced, and Jim Gordon, the police commissioner of Gotham City, almost destroyed himself keeping it inside himself. He said, at one point, “I knew Harvey Dent. I was his friend. And it will be a very long time before someone… Inspires us the way he did. I believed in Harvey Dent.” Yet the whole time Gordon knew he was speaking a lie. He believed in Dent, but he no longer believes in him.

Batman placed his faith in  Catwoman/Selina Kyle. He firmly believed that there was more to her than the anger she continually expressed. This interplay was made more interesting by the interaction between Batman’s and Catwoman’s alter egos, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. Selina Kyle, who seemed generally upset with all the rich and famous in Gotham and the decadence found therein–told the rich billionaire Bruce Wayne, “You think this can last? There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” More on the interaction between the two later.

Alfred put his trust in Bruce Wayne. He strongly wanted Wayne to have a satisfying, fulfilling life, and throughout the film he worried that Batman would destroy Wayne. When push came to shove, Alfred was willing to leave Wayne in order to try to save him. Again, more on this later.

Finally, there were those who had faith in Batman. Batman, to them, was more than just a hero, he was a symbol of hope and justice.

One thing viewers should note is that the use of “faith” in The Dark Knight Rises is not some kind of hack definition. It doesn’t mean “belief in the face of insurmountable evidence to the contrary” or “belief in something you know ain’t true.” Instead, faith in the movie is faith in–a trusting faith based on evidence. Those who believed in Harvey Dent were mistaken, but that wasn’t due to evidence, it was active deception. Batman’s faith in Selina Kyle was firmly based on his ability to read her character. Others’ faith in Batman was based upon either a personal knowledge of the secret (Gordon) or knowledge of his actions as Batman (John Blake, others). It is very similar to the faith of the Christian, which is based upon knowledge.

Rise

The most obvious theme in the movie was that of “arising.” Bruce Wayne had to overcome his doubts, fears, and become something greater. Yet he had to rely on others to build this journey. The knowledge of his fellow prisoners in ‘the pit’–a prison into which people were thrown, but could climb out. Only one had ever managed it, however, and that was Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter, who had subsequently saved Bane. Ironically, then, the rise of his enemies forced the Dark Knight to meet their challenge. He had to transcend his limits and become that which Gotham needed in order to save it.

Yet Batman/Wayne wasn’t the only one who rose in the movie. Selina Kyle also experienced a major transition. As a character, she was initially powerfully motivated by anger and a desire to escape. She was portrayed as being very frustrated and angry with the social imbalance of the world and determined to not only try to balance it–in her favor, of course–but also to punish those who made it so imbalanced. When Batman returns to Gotham after his exile by Bane, he confronts Selina. He points out that the storm she predicted earlier has hit, and it doesn’t seem like it was what she wanted. Still, however, she seems determined to be in it all for herself. Yet ultimately she comes back to fight with the Dark Knight against the evil powers that are trying to destroy Gotham. In the end, she does manage to rise, with the guidance and help of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

John Blake–the incorruptible cop–also rose. It is revealed shortly before the film’s end that he is Robin–and that he is about to take up the cowl of Batman, to become the symbol for Gotham. Here, I sensed a feeling of fulfillment. We encourage others to walk in our shoes and left them up when they are down. Without Batman, Blake would not have survived. Yet he goes on to [presumably] become the next Batman, to save others.

Corruption

The world is not all sunshine and daisies. The world is full of corruption and sin. Interestingly, The Dark Knight Rises has much less corruption on the part of the police force than the previous movies. The turn was a noticeable, perceptible shift. As far as the plot goes, I wonder if any of that was due to the “Dent Act” which effectively ended organized crime in Gotham. Despite the relative “cleanness” of the police force, however, there was plenty of corruption to go around. Once Bane overthrows the city, there are “people’s courts” where “justice” is dole out on those already deemed guilty. The prisons are ripped open due to the lie [Harvey Dent] that many were imprisoned by. One wonders, how much of this is justice? Is any of what Bane says true?

Furthermore, it is a powerful reminder of the human condition. Given the chance to rule themselves, Gotham erupted into violence and brutality. It is little wonder that this should happen, given a Christian worldview, because all are sinful and need grace. All deserve justice.

Justice and Freedom

Is there justice? Was Batman just in continuing his adventures as the Caped Crusader? Is violence ever a justifiable means to an end?

Within Christianity there is a long history–traceable to Augustine, at least–of the concept of a “Just War.”  There will be much debate over whether the actions of someone like Batman could be justified. Is it ever permissible to take justice into one’s own hands? I leave the question open.

Yet more important questions loom. What is justice? Who is to determine it?

One wonders what worldview could plug these holes that continue to open as human nature is probed by director Christopher Nolan throughout the Batman Trilogy. From the irrational desire to cause fear and anarchy of Scarecrow to the anarchist nihilism of the Joker to the over-reactive retribution of Bane, Nolan has exposed viewers to the depths of human freedom. What price, freedom? Bane tells Gotham he has set them free, yet he has truly imprisoned them by their own nature. What occurs is a vivid portrayal of human nature and destruction.

Christian Threads- Redemption and Cleansing

I can’t help but think of Bruce Wayne’s ascension from the pit to the chants of “rise” without thinking of the Christian faith. We sinners are in our own pits of sin. Yet just as Wayne we have a very real lifeline. Yes, Bruce Wayne shunned the physical lifeline, but he clung to an idea: he clung to faith. Similarly, the Christian shuns the physical realm and is saved by faith. Rise.

There is the notion of a “clean slate.” Selina Kyle is primarily motivated by her desire to have such a clean slate. She wants to start over. Batman offers it as a tantalizing price to pay for her help in the final battle. Yet in the end, Selina comes back and redeems herself more than was required by the Bat. At the end of the movie, however, it is revealed that both Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have managed to use the “clean slate.” They have started afresh. Again, a Christian allegory or overlay could be applied here. We are all sinners in search of a clean slate, yet we cannot provide it for ourselves. While have no nearly-magical technology to give us a clean slate, we do have salvation by grace through faith. And that, my friends, is something worth considering.

Finally, Wayne’s “rise” coincides with the need I described earlier. The fact that enemies had arisen meant that Batman had to also rise to the challenge. Christians know that once sin came into the world, the only way to cure it would be for God to come into the flesh to save us. Such is poignantly portrayed when Jim Gordon talked to John Blake. Gordon talks about the evils of Gotham and describes how Batman transcends the filth, but he “puts his hands into the filth [with us]” [I believe he says filth, but I have a suspicion it may have been muck–correct me if I’m wrong here]. Wayne, though having no obligation to these people, still loves Gotham, and he is willing to condescend to get his hands dirty–to put his hands into the filthy muck and dirty them in order to save it. Is it an allegory? It certainly works as one. Jesus is God incarnate. A God who loved His creatures so much that He was willing to become one of them–to put his hands into the filth and reach down to save us. Just as Batman did what was necessary to save while also dealing justice, Christ did what was necessary in order to save humanity from its own sin. The Son Rises.

Links

Check out more of my reflections on movies. If you liked The Dark Knight Rises, check out my look at The Avengers.

SDG.

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