According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, August 22, 2011

Liberal Theology Part 2 - Schleiermacher, Ritschl

TNT: Liberal Master Class
http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2011/08/18/tnt-liberal-master-class/

August 18, 2011 by 3 Comments


Tripp and Bo sit down for an hour-long chat about the term ‘Liberal’. Tripp interacts with Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albert Ritschl for a historical perspective and then connects with Douglas Ottati and Peter Hodgson for a contemporary engagement.
Tripp puts them in contrast to Progressive, Emergent and Evangelical. We recorded this before the posts Goosing Emergents into the Mainline.

This is part 2 of 3 for the current TNT series (Theology Nerd Throwdown).

Facebook Peeps Click HERE to Listen



Comments
  1. Brandon Morgan says:
    This was a fun podcast, which really helped me to distinguish myself from the approach you guys authentically hold when it comes to liberalism. I suppose I would first mention that Schleiermacher was not the first to articulate the open passivity of human agents to divine receptivity. But you guys know that. So, I’m not sure if that is much of a hallmark from his work. However, I would have thought that you would have critiqued this posture of experiential passivity, which according to Hegel, meant that his dog was the most religious being on the planet. Hegel pretty much hated Schleiemacher, likely because of his inherent Pietism. To that degree, I agree with Hegel.
    I’m also a post-liberal, which means I have a problem, not just with the theological claims, but the methodological presuppositions of internal experience as a (foundational?) ground for theological reflection. Such experiences are an effect of language and practice, and not its cause. Which leads me to understand why the liberal reduction of theology to ethics (which was Bonhoeffer’s experience of American theology when he visited Union) is a product of Kantian demarcation of reason’s grounds and, thus a limitation on the claim Christians can make via contemporary epistemology. This is, of course, why post-liberals question the motivations and authenticity of modern epistemology in general; namely that Kant (and Schleiemacher) felt well and good limiting the authoritative position of the church while enhancing the authority of the state, for which Schleiemacher’s curriculum schema of seminary education was meant to serve (not much has changed.) At this point the reduction of theology to ethics, for which liberals are critiqued, is not just materially, but methodologically different from the post-liberal or neo-anabaptist prolegomena of witness as the practice of theological ethics. In this sense however, (and in a rather Wittgensteinian sense I might add), Christianity as a set of practices is a not a reductive claim, but a normative one for all formations of community virtue, Christian or not. Moreover, the liberal problem of reducing theology to ethics has its source in the inability to make the revelation of the grace of Christ uniquely!! intelligible within a closed off natural framework or an indeterminate “openness to transcendence.” There is just too much content to Christianity to fit within the liberal form. Such is also a product of viewing freedom negatively (liberally) as the absence of constraint lingering from Kantianism. Alternatively, the post-liberal starting point of ethics (read witness) has as its presupposition the unique revelation of God in the fully divine and fully human Christ, which substantiates the role of the church to perform the same witnessing function, bearing with it the extension of grace that reveals to us our sinfulness. The former does vapid ethics by limiting Christology to a posture of interiority, while the latter performs ethics as a public witness of truthfulness and exteriority of Christian practice. So I think your critique of “reducing Christianity to practice” must have dealt with the problems of liberalism and not the centrality of practice in post-liberalism, though it seems like you would have to critique that as well from your position.
    I’m glad you mentioned the liberal schematic term “antimodern” “counter-modern” etc., which is perhaps an overdetermined way of saying that resourcement theologies are critical of Kant on the material level and see him as a hindrance. Barthians, of course, sustain the German Idealist scaffolding to enhance the non-Kantian articulation of revelation while RO would simply love to eradicate neo-kantian thought from the Christian map. I am sympathetic to this since I fail to see the allure of sustaining something like “things in themselves” in order to relativize social, political and linquistic reality. Such reality is already relativized, which then forces the appeal to noumenality to figure as a covert and pre-discursive residue of foundationalism. The same is true, I take it, of the noumenality of indeterminate interior experience found in Schleiemacher. So, it would seem that terms like “countermodern” is modern theology’s own way of sustaining the status quo of reducing theology to the demarcation of the social and hard sciences, granting those methods the platitude of “theological neutrality” that they definitely do not deserve.


  1. yo brandon. thanks for the listen and comment. just to clarify, i was mostly trying to get liberalism out in its own terms. personally i was not trying to claim it as described. the notion of a living tradition at the end im home in. i would take hegel over kant when picking the modern philosopher for types of liberal theology (but that’s not too much of a surprise for a pannenberg and process fan). the other stuff you mention about readings of particular people is interesting but clarifying or arguing about that is painful on a blog. ill just say that schleiermacher gets a bad read from hegel and they have more in common than hegel acknowledges. what is unique about schleiermacher is how he uses passivity in his anthropology not that he talks about it. his use was new because it presumed kant. hope that clarifies, im not trying to diss the moravians!
    now i am not a post-liberal fan at all. my anti-duke ACC basketball issues may have contributed to it but……any way, I’m interested in what you meant when you said “There is just too much content to Christianity to fit within the liberal form.” What does ‘content’ mean or refer too? The general answer for those under the influence of Lindbeck drives me nutts.
    BTW, you write these huge comments on blogs and i read them. that means i would read your actual blog! (peer pressure!!!)



  1. Brandon Morgan says:
    1. I’m not too savy about putting together the blog thing, but maybe i’ll figure it out soon enough so I can post stuff. This would be despite my joy of creeping around in the comments like a blog stalker.
    2. The question about content rests exactly on the pervasive use of Kant that perhaps has a tendency to reconfigure the exact divine content of transcendence in Christianity. Schlieremacher has a tendency to paint divine transcendence like an “omnipresent-pneumatic-pressure” that bears upon the consciousness of human subjects in their passivity. Post-Kantian views of transcendence seem to have this tendency to construe God according to the recognition of divine sublimity evacuated of the content of trinitarian relations, the transcendentals of beauty, truth, goodness and being in order to “make room” for greater variation in views about the Christian God. Such establishes the ever-controversial practices of “symbolism” used in liberal theology to account for the language us Christianity without succumbing to its ontology. It is only from this it seems that Schleiemacher can put the trinity in the appendix. Kantian views of transcendence as the noumenal reflexivity to the subject of the infinity of reason and freedom confines the immanence to an openness to –well–itself and its own capacity for reason. Such transcendence can perhaps be construed as keeping the form of Christian openness to transcendence without also supplying the content; namely, the uniquely Trinitarian extasis into and out of the divine persons, which is extended via analogy within Jesus’ condescension to creation via incarnation etc. This content, I suppose, is too much for the boundaries of liberal theology (existing as its seems to within at least some of the guardrails set up by Kant) to account for. Of course, I’m not saying it wants to account for that kind of specific content. That is, predictably, one of my critiques of the methodology of theological liberalism in general. But I think some would say that the “broadening” of the capacity for transcendence (thus establishing it as rather indeterminate) is, from the liberal perspective, a good thing. I suppose I disagree with that.

Homebrew Updates: Emergents, Liberals, Progressives & Mainline Churches

Goosing Emergents into the Mainline

August 14, 2011 by 16 Comments

Back Ground : Brandon Morgan attended the Wild Goose Festival and came away with some concerns/critiques that were posted at Roger Olson’s website and responded to by Tony Jones with some great new suggestions .

Tripp and I had some fun recording a Theology Nerd Throw-down (TNT) last week where we discussed Tony’s suggestions for replacing Emergent-Liberal-Progressive as unhelpful and antiquated terms that are unclear and carry too much baggage.

But none of that responded to Brandon’s actual concerns and questions. I appreciate and respect Brandon’s position and involvement – SO since we are on the same team – I wanted to honor his questions with an honest attempt to dialogue about it.


Question 1: Why haven’t Emergent folks joined the mainline denominations?

Response: The simple answer is – because they are doing two different things. People emerge out of something-somewhere. Those backgrounds are varied and diverse, but primarily they emerge into a more open, less institutional, more casual, less hierarchical expression. It doesn’t have to be a full fledged movement (sorry Dr. Olson) for there to be both an appeal and an organizational framework. It is providing a communal and spiritual environment that nurtures and facilitates a less defined- more adaptable entity (expression) in the post-colonial, post-christendom ecosystem.

To me, the better question is “Why WOULD emergent folks join mainline denominations?” They are going two different directions. I mean, except for some behaviors and convictions (ordaining women, justice work, etc.) the mainline is a historical-institutional behemoth that one would only want to take on if there was a significant impetuous. Otherwise the decentralized- organic-contextual capacity of emergence spirituality and practice are much more attractive than the albs & stoles, acolytes and adjudicatories, the liturgy and lectionary of the Mainline.

Why would an emergent type volunteer to take on all of that plus the Bishoprics and Books of common practice?

I want to ask you: what are you picturing when you say something like this? [it is an honest question since I do not know you and do not know what you are picturing when you say 'mainline' and what exactly it is that you think would appeal to an emergent type?]

I think the reason that your post has gotten the response that it has and your questions have not been answered is that you must be picturing something when you ask the question that seem outlandish to those of us who are not in your head. Have you had a different experience of the mainline that we have? What aspect of mainline did you think WOULD appeal to emergent types?


Question 2: Why have the negatives of evangelicalism been so easy to describe and virulently rebuked, while the negatives of the mainline denominations have barely shown up in Emergent concerns?

Response: I think this comes down to two quick thoughts:
  1. most emergents have either emerged from an evangelical background or against an evangelical background. It is the reality of our era. TV preachers, mega churches, Christian bookstore chains and the Religious Right have made it so.
  2. The mainline has it’s endowed seminaries and publishing houses to document it’s slow decline. It is neither the primary drive nor the main attraction for most theologically charged conversations.

Question 3: Another way to ask this question would be: Why hasn’t the Emergent critique of evangelicalism’s involvement with the American nation-state and it’s tendency toward creating theologically exclusive boundaries not found root in a critique of mainline denominations, whose political interests also conflate the church with nation-state interests?

Response: I hate to oversimplify it, but it seems really clear. If mainliners are theologically over-aware (maybe even hyper-aware in some cases) then their involvement in the political system may tend toward liberation, justice, and equality. Whereas those movements who are newly energized toward “Theo” heavy themes may tend toward conserving romantic ideals of past formulations without consideration (or awareness) or their capacity and tendency toward institutional hegemony.

So those are my genuine, non-cheeky, responses to your honest questions. I would love to hear your and other people’s thoughts in order to dialogue about this.


**********

Update: Categories Clarification

August 11, 2011 by Leave a Comment

Last week I posted that Progressive is not Liberal and also on the term Evangelical. Both got good response. It was part of a bigger conversation that his happening at several nodes around the interwebs. Here is a rundown of some of them.

Carol Howard Merritt from Tribal Church.org did a good job clarifying her position here. She says:
I agree that progressive and liberal are theological terms as well as sociological ones.
I like “progressive” as a theological term, because the most vital aspect of my faith is a liberating one. As someone who moved from evangelicalism, a key to my spiritual evolution has been understanding the freedom of God and God’s continual liberating process. As we move from abolitionism, to the child-labor movement, to anti-poverty, to civil rights, to gender equality, to creation care, to affirming LGBTs, this has been an incredible, liberating time in our American theology. It’s exciting how our theology has often been at the forefront of making these changes. “Progressive” recognizes and celebrates God’s expanding freedom.

That said, I think that Tony’s right in wanting a new term. “Progressive” did seem to move directly from the political sphere to the theological one, so I’m a bit uncomfortable with that. Also, I believe in the *ideal* of progression and expanding freedom, but I’m afraid that the ideal does not always match with reality. For instance, our business practices no longer allow for child labor in the US, but we thoughtlessly employ children overseas. Is that true progress? When we use the term “progressive” are we feeding a modernist mindset and deluding ourselves into thinking that everything is getting better? Those are my concerns…
Daniel Kirk continues to be a blog worth reading and he has had a lot to contribute lately.

Greg Horton had a characteristically intelligent and … Horton-esqe take. Deep stuff at the Parish.

Austin Roberts, my close friend, focused on the Evangelical aspect , wanting to tighten it up a little bit. We disagree about that. But the conversation is vibrant.

Brian McLaren made some predictions and pointed people to both Tony Jones’ and Roger Olson’s contributions.

Speaking of Roger Olson, he was a guest on Doug Pagitt’s radio show in hour 2 this week and took it up a WHOLE other notch. (it’s also available on I-tunes)

This has given me a lot to think about and I continue to flesh out the frameworks and philosophical underpinnings that drive this conversation. Please feel free to point me to any resources or locations that may be appropriate.

**********

Progressive is not Liberal
http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2011/08/04/progressive-is-not-liberal/

August 4, 2011 by 16 Comments

This has been an exciting couple of weeks for evangelicals. Well, at least the term evangelical. Kurt Willems started it all with a post about being an evangelical “reject” and a guest posted about C.S. Lewis being one.

I responded by putting forward a progressive re-interpretation of the classical definition with my Nine Nations formulation.

Then, this week Roger Olson (from Podcast episode 96) had a guest post-er Brandon who was a little confused about his experience at the Wild Goose Festival. He asked some questions about the Emerging Church that Tony Jones responded to … which led to Dr. Jones (Podcast episode 105 ) to suggest that we abandon the term ‘evangelical’ to the conservatives and go a different direction.

The hitch seems to be that both Brandon and Tony (as well as Roger) have real concern / apprehension about the distinction between Liberal and Progressive.

The problem seems to come when people fail to make a distinction between Progressive and Liberal – even equating them.

Dr. Jones says :

The problem with both “liberal” and “progressive” is that they are not inherently theological categories. They are sociological and political. “Evangelical,” on the other hand, is inherently theological.

As odd as this seems – I actually disagree with Jones on all three points. Liberal and Progressive are both thoroughly theological terms and everyone from Carol Howard-Merritt to Austin Roberts has been trying to tell me that Evangelical is a sociological distinction and not inherently theological. ( I still hold out hope)


In Podcast episode 101 John Cobb makes an important distinction by explaining it this way:

  • Liberal simply means that one recognizes human experience as valid location for the theological process. 

  • Progressive means that one takes seriously the critique provided by feminist, liberation, and post-colonial criticisms.

I know that when many people think of Liberals they think of a caricature of Marcus Borg and have him saying something about the laws of nature and how no one can walk on water or be conceived in a Virgin so we know those are literary devices that need not be defended literally. It is someone stuck in the Enlightenment who puts more faith in physics than in the Bible.

Similarly, I often hear a flippant dismissal by those who don’t get the Progressive concern so resort to the cliche that “progressive is just a word non-conservative evangelicals who don’t like the word ‘liberal’ hide behind as camouflage.”

Both are woefully cartoonish.

Tony Jones, on the other hand is addressing a real concern. So if he wants to say “Those of us who are not conservative need a new label.” That is fine and I would probably even join team TJ – whatever it says on our uniform.

Just don’t say that Liberal and Progressive are not theological. They are inherently so and the distinction between the two is worth the effort. They, along with the term ‘Evangelical”, come with a historical framework, a theological tradition and a social application. They are not interchangeable nor are they disposable. They come from some where and the represent a group of some ones.

I think that they are worth clarifying, understanding, and maybe even fighting for – and over. They matter.
**********

what went wrong with the Mainline?

May 10, 2011 by 2 Comments

I was editing the 101st episode of Homebrewed Christianity, a conversation primarily between Paul Capetz and John Cobb. It was a fantastic theological dialogue … and then then subject turned toward practical matters.

What happened to the Mainline church? Why is it in such decline?

It turns out the answer, according to Cobb, is both complex and not completely absent of theology.

He details three major shifts that spelled out a recipe for disaster:
The first shift was an acculturation. In post World War 2 America, there was a boom in church attendance as it played a vital role both socially and in the family. In a twist of fate, the Mainline churches (and social gospel) were successful – maybe too successful. The church got comfortable. The church liked its forms – especially liturgy. The church was satisfied with the direction and changes of society. Cobb doesn’t use the word complacency but self-satisfaction about success can become paralyzing in future discussions.

The second shift was a diminishing of the importance of theology. It was the ecumenical mentality and apathetic attitude toward theological difference that somehow resulted in a mentality that it doesn’t really matter so much what you believe about this specific or that. At some point one has to think that this casualness about theology is not simply laziness but an abdication of core responsibilities.

The third shift came in the 70’s when the Liberation Theologies showed up and “they knew exactly what they believed and were not afraid to say so.” The Mainline was impotent and irrelevant by comparison. (my words, not Cobb’s)
When you put these three together, you see a perfect storm: loss of intensity due to acculturation, loss of identity due to theological abandonment, and loss of relevance (potency) due to shifting contexts.

The first shift gets a lot of attention. Philip Clayton has talked about the ‘collapse narrative’. Dianna Butler Bass has done great work on both dying forms of liturgy and efforts of revitalization. Brian McLaren had some powerful and innovative thoughts on the subject [toward the bottom of the link].

The overwhelming consensus seems to be that purely theological explanations are too simplistic and miss the overarching interrelatedness to the shift in the surrounding culture. I have always been told that it is because they “sold out” to the culture and “compromised the gospel”. I never bought that – there was too much good coming out of churches like that and I had met too many people sincerely committed to Christ’s work.

It is the second shift that really piques my interest. Cobb doesn’t specifically talk about hermeneutics, but I have been bewildered at, what seems to me, a willingness of Liberal thought to saw at the Biblical limbs on the tree side of the limb that they stand on. This is self-sabotage! You can not undercut the very thing that your existence stands on without weakening your ability to stand at all.

The third shift is potentially the one with the greatest consequences… and the most potential for turn around. It is the church’s willingness to engage its surrounding culture and embrace the task of forging an authentic expression of the gospel in our local context that gives us relevance. This can be done with a progressive reading of the Bible and a Liberal, generous stance – no matter what our weekend gatherings look like.

The old wooden beams in the sanctuary may not make it through this shift. But I have great confidence that both the work of the church and the people of Christ’s spirit will endure in multiple streams. A progressive reading and expression of the gospel is a message of great hope to many in our emerging, decentralized, inter-connected culture and world. The forms and structures may need to change, but the historic impulse can be cultivated and harnessed.

Cobb and Capetz have me thinking about this stuff from a new angle.



Profile Story: Bosnian Native Reconstructs His World

Profile: Bosnia native, Grand Rapids go-to guy Haris Alibasic

 E-mail Terri Hamilton: thamilton@grpress.com
Haris Alibasic Profile
Haris Alibasic with uncle Dzelal in 1977

Haris Alibasic, impeccably dressed in a suit, holds his 9-month-old daughter, Lamija, on his lap as she howls.

He jiggles her. Coos at her. Gives her dry cereal to munch and water to sip.

“Yaaaaaaaaaaa!” Lamija shrieks.

Alibasic, who has seemingly at least nine different jobs with the City of Grand Rapids, is good at fixing things, from neighbor disputes to City Hall windows that leak energy to tricky legislative affairs.

“Yaaaaaaaaaa!” Lamija shrieks again.

But dad knows when he’s beat, and hands his yowling baby off to his wife.

“She’s a fighter,” he says proudly of his daughter.

You’ll see where she gets that.

Alibasic, 39, has an office on the sixth floor of Grand Rapids City Hall, right next to the mayor’s.
He’s Mayor George Heartwell’s go-to guy on all sorts of stuff — some things you may not even realize anybody’s doing.

His main job is as director of energy and sustainability for the city, which means he has his hands in everything from the use of solar panels in city buildings to planning installation of charging stations around town for electric cars to a proposal to use wind turbines to create energy at the city’s water filtration plant.

But, as City Manager Greg Sundstrom says, “Few of us here have the luxury of doing one thing,” so Alibasic also solves the stickiest neighborhood problems nobody else could fix. He also was in charge of the city’s 2010 census count. He was instrumental in getting the Kroc Center off the ground, after controversy erupted when Garfield Park neighbors didn’t want it built there, as originally planned.

He wrote the rules that allow city business owners, such as all of those Uptown restaurant and shop owners, to join together and use property taxes the city collects from them to pay for neighborhood improvements, such as turning an old vacant lot into paved parking for customers.

What can’t Alibasic do?

“Haris has an enormous capacity for work,” Heartwell says. “He’s a bit of a magnet for projects and initiatives that I dream up or the city manager dreams up. We’ll say, ‘Who’s there to do the work?’

Haris. He can always take on one more job.”

If it’s volatile, give it to Haris.

“He’s calm and patient,” Heartwell says.

That’s in large part because Alibasic has endured a lot worse than the most ornery city resident can dish up.

Haris Alibasic Profile
Haris Alibasic in 1982 standing outside with his family.


A war torn homeland

He grew up in Bosnia and survived the three-year war there in the 1990s, watching his home and village burn to the ground, tanks rumble through every night, neighbors shot dead by Serbian soldiers in huge swaths of ethnic cleansing.

“When you think about his background, coming from a war-torn nation and the stresses and pressures he’s had,” Heartwell says, “solving some of the city’s most intractable neighborhood problems is a walk in the park.”

When 200 angry Grand Haven residents gathered at a public hearing, riled up about Grand Rapids’ plan to install two wind turbines in Grand Haven Township to power its lakeshore water filtration plant, Heartwell sent Alibasic.

You can tell he feels sort of bad about it.

“The people were angry; they were very disrespectful,” Heartwell says. “Haris said afterward, ‘There was never a time I thought I wouldn’t get out of Bosnia alive. But I thought I’d never get out of Grand Haven Township alive.’”

People call Haris quiet and serious, but he can be pretty funny.

They didn’t get the permits needed for the wind turbines.

“But Haris was able to handle it all,” Heartwell says, “with his usual calm demeanor.

“The courage and endurance one develops coming out of a war setting is useful in peace time,” Heartwell says.

“Haris is unflappable,” Heartwell says. “There’s a quiet demeanor about him that I suspect comes out of his experience.”

Many here have just a fuzzy understanding of the war. Alibasic can explain it — then share poems he wrote during the worst of it, turning horror into a kind of sad beauty.

Before the war, there were six republics in former Yugoslavia. Four republics decided to separate from Yugoslavia in the early 1990s in an attempt to break away from the oppressive Serbian nationalists led by Slobodan Milosevic, he explains.

Slovenia was the first, then Croatia, then Bosnia and, finally, Macedonia. After the referendum on independence passed, the four republics became independent and were internationally recognized. But Milosevic had a plan for a “Greater Serbia,” Alibasic explains, and Serbian nationalists attacked Slovenia, then Croatia, then they turned the entire war effort to Bosnia.

The Serbian army killed more than 100,000 Bosnian civilians, Alibasic says, systematically ridding much of Bosnia and Croatia of all non-Serbs. The war ended in late 1995 with the signing of a peace agreement.

Those are the bare facts, Alibasic says.


Five things to know about Haris Alibasic

• He watches “Bob the Builder” and “Dora the Explorer” cartoons in Bosnian with his son, Jakub, on YouTube.

• He’s president of the Congress of North American Bosnians, representing at least 350,000 Americans and Canadians of Bosnian descent.

• When he eats chicken, he has to follow it with chocolate. Ask for an explanation and he shrugs. “Something about the taste together,” he says.

• He was on a nationally televised quiz show at age 17 in Bosnia.

• “He made recordings for nobody,” his wife, Katie, says. He was the king of mash-ups, experimenting with meshing two different recordings into one new one. He’d mix spiritual and electronic. He fused the “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack with music by the ethereal, neoclassical Australian world music duo Dead Can Dance. He sold his recording equipment when they had their first child, Jakub. “We needed the bedroom for the baby,” he says.


A poet

Now, he shares a poem he wrote in 1994 about the fires of war that claimed his home in June 1992, when he was 20.
Flame
Tongues overpower the sky
Touching the horizon high
I hardly breathe
Face into two pieces
Falls apart
First part salvation seeks
The second part
Stands still
Watching around
Looking outside and inside
Flames getting higher
Insane flaming beasts
Abandoned horses
Rearing up
I stand, no armor
Engulfed by the flame
That burned the house down
Burned the past
Memories erased
“I witnessed my home burning,” he says, sitting at the dining room table in his home on the city’s Northeast Side. “My whole village was burned. Five hundred homes, all burning at once.

“The infrastructure in Bosnia was completely obliterated,” he says. “Everything was destroyed. Roads. Schools. Everything.

“Every night, the tanks could shoot right at you,” he says. “I witnessed people shot by mortars. I saw dead bodies covered up.

“They would just shoot you ... 100,000 civilians were killed. Our home and village were burned for no other reason than the fact that we were not Serbs.”

He slides a photo across the table of 50 simple wood coffins lined up at a funeral for 50 civilians killed in his village.

“They just burned them alive,” he says. “I can’t even tell you about the horrors.”

His dad spent 18 months in a concentration camp, where he was threatened and beaten.

“We didn’t know if he was alive for six months,” he says.

“One day, you can have your home, your life. Then ...”

His voice trails off.

After the horror, Alibasic knew without a doubt what truth would guide him.

“What really matters is not your house or your car,” he says quietly. “It’s the people. Your family, your closest friends. I was blessed my immediate family wasn’t killed or captured.

“It’s a great testament to human survival,” he says. “There was a great sense of unity. We used car batteries to run the radio. You learn to live with less. As long as there was flour and oil and salt to make bread ...”


Learning to survive

There was no normalcy, but he did the best he could.

He hosted a radio show three times a week. He took college classes. He passed time translating Pink Floyd songs into Bosnian. (A music lover, he now loves the Vertigo Music store downtown and collects vinyl records.)

“It was a challenge that tested human spirit,” he says of the war. “People learn how to survive. It made me stronger.”

After the war, Alibasic got a government job as a business specialist. He worked as a translator for the United Nations for a while. He worked for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other international organizations as a business and economic development specialist.

He came to Grand Rapids in 2000 with his family — mom Emira, dad Dzevad, brothers Venso, 38, and Emir, 29 — after his dad was granted immigration status through refugee resettlement.

Haris Alibasic Profile
Haris Alibasic meets with the president of Bosnia and
Herzegovina, Zeljko Komsic, last month.

But he didn’t leave Bosnia behind. Alibasic is president of the Congress of North American Bosnians, representing at least 350,000 Americans and Canadians of Bosnian descent.

He meets with the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zeljko Komsic. He writes for Bosnian magazines and newspapers, tracks legislative issues and works to strengthen the relationship between Bosnia and the United States.

He’s been elected to the position three years in a row. Everybody likes Alibasic.

His friend and colleague William Crawley at Grand Valley State University, where Alibasic teaches, has seen his intense commitment in action.

The two traveled with a local group to Turkey last month, an interfaith trip sponsored by the Niagara Foundation, a Chicago-based organization that promotes peace and understanding.

“People in Turkey asked me about the Grand Rapids lip dub,” Alibasic says with a grin. “They said that was so cool.”

There’s a significant population of Bosnians in Turkey, Crawley says, and Alibasic connected with them wherever they went, asking about their lives, getting political updates.

When Crawley boarded his plane for home, Alibasic got on a different plane to Sarajevo, to meet with the Bosnian president.


‘Both worlds’

Back home at GVSU, where Alibasic teaches graduate-level classes in city politics and policy, Crawley says Alibasic is great at taking the textbook theory his students study and relating it to the real world of government, where he works every day.

“He has a foot in both worlds,” Crawley says. “He shares the realities that aren’t always captured in their textbooks. It makes for a really strong voice in the classroom.”

Plus, his students can sometimes read about his City Hall exploits in the newspaper, Crawley says, which they think is pretty cool.

Alibasic’s experiences in war-torn Bosnia bring another layer of depth to his teaching, Crawley says.
“He teaches citizenship as a serious obligation,” Crawley says. “And beyond local or state government. He talks to his students as global citizens.”

Haris Alibasic Profile
Haris Alibasic, left, with his family: his wife, Katie;
2-year-old son, Jakub, named after Alibasic's grandfather;
and 9-month-old daughter, Lamija.


A sentimental husband

Alibasic’s wife, Katie, says living through war has made her husband careful and sentimental.

“He’s very cautious about security,” she says. “He’s always checking all the doors and windows.

“He wants to save everything,” Katie says. “Pictures are so important to him.”

“There are hardly any pictures from my childhood,” he points out. “They burned in the fire.”

As baby Lamija — her name means “brilliant” in Bosnian — naps and 2-year-old Jakub — named for Haris’ grandfather — happily munches cinnamon coffee cake between his parents, Katie looks tenderly at her husband.

“I think you’re indestructible,” she says. “Nobody can put you down.”

Haris Alibasic Profile
Haris Alibasic of the Office of Energy and Sustainability
addresses the concerns about the Wind Turbines project
as the audience at Grand Haven Township Hall listens.
(T.J. Hamilton | The Grand Rapids Press)
He smiles.

“My wife says I’m a survivor,” he says.

The two met at GVSU, both studying public administration. Katie, who grew up all over the world as an Army kid, learned to speak Bosnian from Alibasic and from children’s books. They speak to their kids in English and Bosnian so they’ll grow up knowing both.

She learned how to cook Bosnian food, such as burek, a meat or cheese pie made with flaky phyllo dough.

“You roll it up like a snake,” she explains, “coil it up in a round pan and bake it.”

Alibasic smiles at her.

“I have the best wife in the world,” he says. “She puts up with me staying up until 1 a.m.”


He stays busy

Among all of his other activities, he’s working on his doctorate in public policy.

His work, he says, “is never done. I have my iPhone on all the time.”

Heartwell calls him “my personal Bloomberg News,” always forwarding articles about the latest in sustainability issues. He has all kinds of followers on Twitter, and he has no idea who most of them are.

“I’m never bored,” Alibasic says. “Really. Never bored. I’m always meeting new people, implementing new ideas.”

And Lamija eventually will wake up from her nap.



What does the Christian term Atonement Mean?

This article addresses what Christ's atonement is, but not its extent (whether unlimited or limited). That idea has been dealt with in other areas of this blog. Please refer to articles on Calvinism and Arminianism to understand discussions related to the "extent of Christ's atonement" upon humanity.

- skinhead

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Did I kill Jesus? Part three of a series on atonement

by Roger Olson
on August 21, 2011

Returning to my discussion of good books about atonement.

Now I turn to what I consider one of the best recent books on atonement: Scot McKnight’s, A Community Called Atonement.

I suggest to anyone reading this book that they turn first to Chapter Eighteen: Atonement as Missional Praxis: Living the Story of the Word. It might have been good for Scot to put some of this chapter’s material first because it lays his cards on the table with regard to theological methodology and especially the role of the Bible in Christian theory and practice. I could not agree with Scot more about the TENDENCY of many conservative Christians to put the Bible first–even before God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit–in their hierarchy of loyalties. Scot labels many conservative Christians (I think he is talking mainly to and about evangelicals) “Cognitive Behavioristswho think that knowing more about the Bible automatically makes them better Christians.

Scot views the Bible as the communication of an overarching narrative about God. (I would add with Hans Frei that the Bible’s main purpose is to identify God for us–meaning God’s character.) “Scripture is more than information revealed for our knowledge so that, in knowing more, we will be more.” (145) In brief, Scot’s point is that our loyalty as Christians is to God as revealed in Jesus and to the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and in the church and the Bible is the God-ordained and inspired instrument of strengthening that loyalty and our praxis growing out of it.

Let me add something here that I think is consistent with what Scot says and MAY make his point even clearer. (I don’t know that Scot would agree, but I think he probably would.) Too many conservative evangelicals view the Bible as a NOT-YET-SYSTEMATIZED SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY such that once the correct doctrinal system is drawn out of it and correctly organized and expressed (e.g., in a massive one volume systematic theology seen on the shelves of every Christian bookstore in America!) the Bible is dispensable.

Scot’s point (I think) is that God’s self-revelation (including Scripture) is for the purpose of relationship-community. This happens through the medium of story: “Jesus’ story is to become our story as we identify with him and we are incorporated into him.” (147) The purpose of Scripture, then is “identity-shaping” (146) more than information-giving.

So what about atonement? A major point of the book is expressed on page 147: “Central to my understanding of atonement is the notion of identification for incorporation.” Throughout the book the overarching theme is that “atonement” is not just about what Christ accomplished on the cross but about the entire process of restoring to wholeness we “cracked Eikons” of God through being incorporated into God’s community. Scot rightly points out that the English word “atonement” literally means “at-one-ment”–reconcilation or restored relationship.

(He doesn’t mention this, but my study of the word leads me to believe it was invented by Tyndale for his English translation of the Bible. (Side bar: I remember years ago reading The Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin. There Martin took Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science to task for defining “atonement” as “at-one-ment” as if that was her invention and heretical interpretation of the word. While I agreed with Martin that the CS interpretation, being monistic, is heretical, I now chuckle when I think about how wrong Martin was about the origins and meaning of the term!)

So, for Scot, “atonement” is an umbrella term for salvation (although he never says it quite that way) and his view of salvation is holistic. It includes not just forensic justification or personal conversion. For him salvation, atonement, is incorporation into Christ so that our brokenness is healed and we are restored to what we are meant to be–whole persons in community with God and others through Jesus Christ. Thus, Jesus’ atoning work includes incarnation, temptation and victory over it (Scot loves Irenaeus as do I), death, resurrection, outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church at Pentecost and the Spirit’s inclusion of us into the church, the continuation of God’s people.

One of my favorite quotes from this book is on page 132: “A thoroughly biblical understanding of atonement, then, is earthy: It is about restored relations with God and with self, but also with others and with the world–in the here and now.” Consistent with that, Scot ends his book with a call for Christians to do justice in the world as part of their participation in the mission of God. I can’t resist offering here another great quote from the book: “God’s redemptive intent is to restore and rehabilitate humans in their relationship with God, self, others, and the world, and when that happens justice is present and established. The followers of Jesus both proclaim and embody atoning justice by fighting injustice and establishing just that kind of justice. Their forward guard is surrounded with the banner of grace and forgiveness.” (133)

But what about the classical atonement theories? Which one does Scot finally embrace? He embraces them all: Christus victor, recapitulation, moral influence, satisfaction/penal substitution, etc. All of these, he argues, are metaphors for something ultimately mysterious–God’s work through Jesus Christ on our behalf for restoring relationship.

In order to understand Scot’s meaning here, and its significance for his account of Christ’s atonement, you have to pay close attention to Chapter Five: Atonement as Metaphor: Metaphor and Mechanics.” On pages 38-39 Scot lays out a view of theology consistent with (if not influenced by) 19th century American theologian Horace Bushnell. Bushnell famously argued, much to the chagrin of his critics mired in Protestant scholasticism (Turretin and all that) that all theological language is metaphorical. But he also argued that ALL HUMAN LANGUAGE is metaphorical. Many conservative evangelicals will balk at Scot’s agreement with Bushnell (whether Scot meant to agree with Bushnell or not, I don’t know): “…we are bound to our metaphors. This is where a moderate postmodern theology or a robust critical realist theology will simply fall down and admit that, to one degree or another, theology is metaphorical. We cannot unpack the metaphors to find the core, reified truth in a proposition that can be stated for all time in a particular formula. We have the metaphors and they will lead us there, but they are what we have. Yes, what we have is metaphors, but the Christian claim is that metaphors do work: they get us there.” [sic, all human interaction (including language, conscience, mental thoughts and visualizations, sociological/psysiological/psychological relationships, etc) is symbolic - and therefore metaphorical - because human beings are primarily and essentially visual beings. - skinhead]

(Again, let me say in a sidebar that these programmatic moves by Scot make him one of my postconservative evangelicals whether he likes that label or not. I won’t apply the label to him if he doesn’t want it, but I will say his overall approach to theology, the Bible, doctrine, theological language, cautious openness to revision, etc., is typical of what I mean by “postconservative evangelicalism.”)

Back to Scot’s reflections on the theories of the atonement. They are all metaphorical; none matches exactly what God has done for us in Jesus and continues to do for us and in us through the Holy Spirit. They all find roots and justification in Scripture and tradition. Each has its place and value.

Scot uses his own metaphor of a bag of golf clubs to make his point. A good golfer uses all the clubs in his bag and not just one. Similarly, the church needs all the biblical metaphors and historical theories of the atonement and not just one. BUT, all the metaphors and theories come UNDER the umbrella of the wider, more holistic metaphor of reconciliation and restoration of cracked Eikons (us).

So let’s get right to it: what about penal substitution? That seems to be the ONLY atonement theory that is controversial right now. Fortunately, Scot does not simply discard it as some tend to do. But his critique is that TOO MANY of its advocates have treated it mechanically rather than relationally. He rightly says “This theory of penal substitution has come in for hard times in current theological discussion, much of the hard times being gross caricature and political posturing.” (40) Let’s stop there and dwell on that for a moment. (Another sidebar coming….)

I’ve already commented in this series of posts about the gross caricatures of the penal substitution theory–depicted as “divine child abuse” and so forth. But what does Scot mean by “political posturing?” He doesn’t explain and the context isn’t very helpful. The only ideology he mentions is radical feminism and he decries SOME feminists’ caricaturing of penal substitution as divine child abuse that justifies abuse of children and women. But he also mentions some very conservative evangelical theologians who treat penal substitution as if it were THE ONE AND ONLY legitimate theory (and not really a theory at all!) of atonement. I THINK Scot means that SOME people on both ends of the spectrum of critics are using their rhetoric against or for penal substitution to score points with their constituents and do harm to others within their theological contexts.

(For example (I’m departing somewhat from Scot here, but I think he might agree) SOME conservative evangelical critics of Recovering the Scandal of the Cross (by Mark Baker and Joel Green) have simply flown off the handle with their criticisms and have depicted the book as cavalierly tossing aside penal substitution in favor of, say, Abelard’s moral example or moral influence theory. (Read: Baker and Green are liberals!) SOME of the accusations aimed at the book and its authors sound more like diatribes meant to marginalize the authors (and positive reviewers) within the evangelical movement than like careful, scholarly examinations of the books argument.)

Back to Scot and his book. Let me quote Scot about critics of penal substitution here. “…it is irresponsible for critics to depict penal substitution as ‘divine child abuse’ because all it takes is love-of-neighbor readings of major theologians–and I will mention here Leon Morris, John Stott, and J. I. Packer–and one will readily discover that for each of them penal substitution is contextualized into a Trinitarian context wherein it is not the Father being ‘ticked off’ at humans and venting his rage on the Son. Instead, atonement for penal substitutionists is prompted by the loving grace of the Father.” (41) And, I would add, ” of the Son.”

Lest anyone get defensive, Scot adds “But advocates of penal substitution should listen to their critics.” (41) “…I am persuaded,” he says, “that penal substitution theorists could help us all out if they would baptize their theory into the larger redemptive grace of God more adequately.” (43) So how does Scot himself do this?

Scot’s actual treatment of the theory comes on page 113 of the book–wrapped into a larger and more holistic treatment of atonement metaphors. And he attempts to shift the focus from the “mechanics” of substitutionary atonement to Christ’s mysterious identification with us in his death that plays ONE ROLE (not every role) in reconciliation and restored community. Here is how Scot expresses it: “He [Jesus] identifies with us, all the way down into death (so, Phil. 2:5-11), so that we can be incorporated into him and find life–both here and now and then and there.” (113)

Scot argues that the Bible “often” teaches that Jesus suffered death “on our part.” (113) And he means, instead of us. That is, “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).” (113) But completely missing from Scot’s account of penal substitution is any thought of God the Father having to have his pound of flesh and taking out his vengeful wrath on Jesus instead of on us.

Here is how I interpret Scot’s “take” on penal substitution. In order express it I have to talk briefly about another theory of atonement–the “ransom theory” that was so popular among fourth century Christians including the Cappadocian fathers. It as, in fact, the reigning theory up until Anselm. The ransom theory picked up on the biblical metaphor of ransom–that Christ was the ransom paid by God to free us from sin, death and the devil. But some early church fathers and most people throughout the middle ages INTERPRETED this to mean that God the Father gave his Son Jesus over to Satan as a ransom in a transaction that included Satan handing over humanity to the Father. Of course, nowhere does the Bible say that! And it makes God crafty and deceptive (because he knew the devil did not know that he could not keep the Son of God). It portrays the atonement as a transaction between God and Satan and depicts them as almost on the same level–as if God has to enter into a bargaining agreement with Satan.

I THINK what Scot is suggesting is that too many explanations of the penal substitution theory of the atonement pick up on substitutionary imagery and metaphor in the Bible and run with it too far–implying (if not saying) that Christ’s death was a kind of mechanical transaction between God and humanity (with Christ representing humanity) involving strict, juridical justice and a kind of impersonal law that even God has to obey. Scot apparently wants to keep the biblical metaphor of substitutionary death without all the baggage the whole penal substitution theory has accumulated throughout the years especially among Reformed fundamentalists. I applaud the effort and largely agree with him about this. Penal substitution is a biblical image I cannot escape. The correlation between Isaiah 53 and numerous New Testament passages that seem to echo this, applying it to Jesus and his death, convince me that, biblically, we cannot escape penal substitution as one metaphor for what Jesus’ death was.

A Community Called Atonement is much more than what I have described here. Overall, the book is a ringing call for Christians to BE THE CHURCH that God intended his people to be–a reconciling, restoring, healing, justice-establishing community that extends Christ’s holistic saving work into the world.

1 One mild criticism I have of the book is that it stretches the word “atonement” almost to the breaking point. Scot uses it for everything God does and we enter into with him that works to restore the damaged goods (cracked Eikons) that we humans are. Most people understand “atonement” much more narrowly–as having to do with Christ’s death and its salvific effects. I’m always a little leery of stretching terms to mean too much.

2 Another mild criticism I have is that nowhere does Scot (like Boersma) deal with the crucial issue of the extent of the atonement. Is Christ’s atoning work FOR ALL or only for the elect. In this day and age when so many voices are being raised on behalf of limited atonement I hope ANY book on the subject will deal with that horrendous, nearly heretical idea that one cannot find even in Calvin himself! Theodore Beza invented it out of whole cloth because it was logically necessary for the Calvinist system. I agree it is necessary for the Calvinist system, but take it away and the system falls. Beza saw that which is why he added it in. (Please don’t remind me that an obscure monk named Gottschalk was held in prison most of his adult life for teaching limited atonement; I know that. But he had no influence in terms of injecting that idea into the stream of theology. Beza is its source if we are talking about a continuity of doctrine beginning today and stemming backwards in time.)



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A Note from Karl Barth on Collecting Books


Collecting books? A note from Karl Barth
http://www.faith-theology.com/2007/09/collecting-books-note-from-karl-barth.html


by Ben Myers
September 15, 2007

Kurt Johanson kindly sent me a copy of his delightful new volume, The Word in This World: Two Sermons by Karl Barth. And he included a facsimile of an inscription which Barth wrote in Klaus Bockmuehl’s copy of Against the Stream, back in 1954.

It’s such a nice inscription that I thought I’d reproduce it here – a timely reminder to all of us who like collecting books!



Meaning of life?
Collecting books? No, read them!
Reading them? No, think about!
Thinking about? No, do something for God and for your neighbour!
- Karl Barth, Basle, 2.11.195


The Best and Worst Books Ever Written About Karl Barth


by Ben Myers
posted on July 20, 2005


The books about Karl Barth could fill an entire library. And on the whole the quality of all this scholarship is extraordinary. Many of the twentieth century’s leading theologians started out by writing brilliant books or dissertations on Barth’s theology. So it’s particularly difficult to choose the very best books. Still, here is my own list (in chronological order) of the Top Eight—if I had to save just eight from my library, these would be the ones:


Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Theology of Karl Barth: Exposition and Interpretation (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992 [1951])

G. C. Berkouwer, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth (London: Paternoster, 1956 [1954])

Hans Küng, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection (London: Burns & Oates, 1964 [1957])

Robert W. Jenson, Alpha and Omega: A Study in the Theology of Karl Barth (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1963)

Eberhard Jüngel, God’s Being Is in Becoming: The Trinitarian Being of God in the Theology of Karl Barth: A Paraphrase (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001 [1965])

Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts (London: SCM Press, 1976 [1975])

George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)

Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barth's Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development, 1909-1936 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)

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The worst book ever written on Karl Barth
http://www.faith-theology.com/2005/07/worst-book-ever-written-on-karl-barth.html

While it’s hard to choose the best books ever written on Karl Barth, fortunately it’s very easy to name the worst book ever written on Barth. It is—of course—

Cornelius Van Til, The New Modernism: An Appraisal of the Theology of Barth and Brunner (London: James Clarke, 1946)

This book presents a comically grotesque misreading of Barth—it would be hard to imagine a more drastic and more wilful misunderstanding of Barth’s theology. Unfortunately, this same book influenced the popular American writer Francis A. Schaeffer, and through Schaeffer it influenced a whole generation of evangelical students and ministers in the United States. And so even today you will occasionally meet someone who, without ever having laid so much as a finger on one of Barth’s books, is nonetheless bitterly and adamantly hostile to Barth’s theology.

**********
 Collecting books? A note from Karl Barth
http://www.faith-theology.com/2007/09/collecting-books-note-from-karl-barth.html
by Ben Myer

September 15, 2007

Kurt Johanson kindly sent me a copy of his delightful new volume, The Word in This World: Two Sermons by Karl Barth. And he included a facsimile of an inscription which Barth wrote in Klaus Bockmuehl’s copy of Against the Stream, back in 1954.

It’s such a nice inscription that I thought I’d reproduce it here – a timely reminder to all of us who like collecting books!


Meaning of life?
Collecting books? No, read them!
Reading them? No, think about!
Thinking about? No, do something for God and for your neighbour!
- Karl Barth, Basle, 2.11.1954