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
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

From Big Tent to Networks




by Thomas Jay Oord
September 12, 2011

Participating in the recent Big Tent Christianity gathering was an enriching experience. I realized anew how much I share in common with Christians of other traditions, despite our real differences.

The Larger Gathering

Two Big Tent Christianity gatherings met simultaneously. My contribution to the larger gathering came as the final ten-minute talk of the event. Thirty-four folks had spoken previously! The crowd was undoubtedly suffering from information and inspiration fatigue. Yet, those remaining listened sympathetically to my voice.

I spoke about my own tribe – the Church of the Nazarene – and my own journey. I talked about differences and similarities I see in the body of Christ today.

My primary message was simple: love unites us as Christians despite our differing opinions on many things. It was a message I have learned through many experiences, and one shared by John Wesley in his sermon “Catholic Spirit.”

The Smaller Gathering

I spent most of my time during the three days with a smaller gathering of leaders. Leading the group were Brian McLaren and Philip Clayton.

Although the group was diverse in many ways, I was one of the few in attendance who accepts the label "Evangelical." Despite being in the minority in that respect, I felt very welcomed by the group.

We talked about many things, some of which have been given the label “emergent/emerging church.” My sense is that what Phyllis Tickle calls “the great emergence” is still under way. That is, a large number of people both inside and outside the church hunger for a new experience and understanding of God. We are in a transitional age.

I include myself among those looking for a “third way” beyond the usual approaches to issues of concern today. For instance, I look for a third way beyond “conservative” and “liberal.”

Inspirational Metaphors

Often during hours of conversation, I pondered the metaphors that might prove most helpful to inspire us to cooperate with God. I thought about the language we should use as we respond to the work of transformation to which the Spirit calls and empowers.

The conference metaphor – Big Tent – has advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that it invites us to think about how different people and groups could join together under common beliefs. A disadvantage, however, is that we often wonder how big the tent needs to be to include diverse views on theology, social issues, and Christians practices. In effect, we ask, “Who is under this big tent, and who must we leave out in the rain?”

An alternative metaphor discussed by the group was the great Yellowstone fire. Many years ago, raging fire destroyed Yellowstone’s forests and grasslands. The green shoots that emerged after the fire, however, renewed Yellowstone to its glory. In a similar way, we often need fire to destroy aspects of the church – especially its institutions – to bring about new creation. We need new wineskins.

A disadvantage of the fire metaphor, however, is that it seems to presuppose that nothing valuable now exists in Christian institutional structures worth preserving. I disagree with that presupposition, because I see so much that is useful in the church as it now exists.

A less dramatic metaphor is the idea of creating new hospitals on the sites of current ones. One might say the work of the church is to build new hospitals with many of the materials of current hospitals, all the while continuing the work of healing patients.

Networks Create a Web

The metaphor I like best has to do with networks that create a gigantic web. This metaphor says people and organizations connect with one another for common purposes. Personal relationships and shared concerns bond Christians of diverse persuasions in the work of God in the world. These networks of relations form a gigantic web of love endeavors.

Particular nodes on the network extend relations with other nodes on the web. These other nodes extend relations to still more nodes. On it goes. In this way, we build bridges to many, many groups of our own choosing -- without constraining other groups to work only with those we would choose.

The web grows huge, as God does far more than we could ever think or imagine.

A Third Way

I left the Big Tent Christianity gathering encouraged and challenged. I was encouraged by testimonies to the work of God in Christian groups and people outside my own denomination/tribe and outside Evangelicalism. I was challenged to help those in my own tribe work with the Spirit in this age of transition. God is doing a new thing!

I am proud of so many aspects of my own tradition. I don’t want to see it burned to the ground so that new growth can emerge. But I also believe much in my tradition could be improved.

I encourage others to join me – no matter their traditions, but especially those in the Evangelical world – in embracing the work of the Spirit occurring both within and beyond our usual realms of engagement.

A new Christian movement – a third way – seems to be gaining momentum. I invite others to join with me in following God’s leading to discern how we might participate in that movement.




A Need for Creative Theology


by Thomas Jay Oord
May 19, 2011

The latest of edition of the magazine Fast Company features today’s 100 most creative business people. The magazine’s stories of these innovators has me thinking about creativity in Christian theology.

What counts as creative is at least partly subjective, of course. But I noticed common themes among those featured in Fast Company. Most creative people listed are problem solvers, obstacle overcomers, or innovators.

The magazine's list has fascinating people. Ranked first is the general director of Al Jazeera. Number two is a designer at Apple. Interestingly, Conan O’Brien made the top ten.

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun?

All of this has me wondering what it would be like to construct a list of the 100 most creative theological thinkers today. I know of no magazine who publishes publish such a list. But I'm sure it would be interesting!

Of course, some Christians think theology done well is not creative at all. Good theology, from this perspective, simply retells stories and truths handed down from yesteryear. For Christians with this perspective, either the Bible or the Christian tradition offers everything of theological importance. There is nothing new under the sun.

Others think creative endeavors in theology imply that God has changed in some way. Because they think God is in all ways unchanging, creative theology is at worst heretical and at best misguided. An unchanging God requires unchanging theology.

I personally think good theology takes into account insights from yesteryear and Scripture. But I don’t think appreciating the past eliminates the possibility of new and creative theological insights. Traditional wisdom is crucial; but contemporary imagination plays an important role in Christian theology.

Something New Under the Sun

We need creative theology today as much or more than ever. In fact, I think the most important creative advances today may actually be occurring in theology not business!

The common Christian conviction that we can never fully understand God plays a role in explaining why creative theology is important today. Unless we think a person or group in the past comprehended God entirely, there is always room to “grow in the knowledge of the love of Christ.”

In addition, Christians face a host of unanswered or poorly answered questions. Take the problem of evil, for instance. Most Christians have either no answer or a poor answer to why an almighty and all-loving God fails to prevent genuine evil. There’s plenty of need for creative theological thinking on that issue.

Theology is necessarily tied to our views of the world, including science. Our views of the human person, initial and ongoing creation, and social structures are always influenced by research and theories in the sciences. While theology need not be a slave to changing scientific ideas, creative theology can help Christians reconcile time-honored truths with contemporary scientific research. There’s work to be done here too.

Or take the questions of religious pluralism. While people of differing faiths have always interacted to some degree, many Christians today interact with nonChristians more often and more deeply. We need creative theological answers questions this new situation raise.

New Research Programs in Theology

Fast Company inspires me to consider the kind of creative theology we need most today. In some of my recent work, I’ve attempted to offer satisfying answers to some questions. But I’m thinking now about what I should do next.

In a changing world with changing people and changing ideas, some things do stay the same. But as long as we know in part, there will be plenty of room for creative theological endeavor.



 
Please continue to -
 
Part 2.
 
by R.E.Slater
September 1, 2012
 
 
 
 

Love in Relational Theology


by Thomas Jay Oord
May 24, 2011

For some Christians, issues of love are of utmost importance. Accounting for the importance of love is just one reason many are turning to relational theology to make some sense of God and the world in which we live.

A book I'm co-editing with Brint Montgomery and Karen Winslow explores how relational theology influences our understanding of about thirty topics important to Christians. I'm writing an essay on relational theology and love.

Love issues are central to the Bible and to who God is revealed to be. “God is love,” says John (1 Jn. 4:8, 16) and Old Testament authors repeatedly say God’s love is everlastingly steadfast. Jesus says the first and second greatest commands are about love. Many people find relational theology helpful for considering the love of Christ, love in the Church, love for enemies and outsiders, love of self, and the love God has for all creation.

God gives and receives in relationship


Love without relationship is impossible. This is especially clear in reciprocal relationships between friends, spouses, parents and children, and within communities. But it’s true of other relations too. Relational theology says God lovingly relates to creatures and creatures relate to God.

Biblical authors often portray God as friend, husband, parent, judge, or leader/Lord/King. These descriptions and others arise from God’s relationality. God cannot be rightly called these names if not in relationship with others. In these descriptions and others, biblical writers explicitly or implicitly present God as in relationship with creation.

A relational God gives to but also receives from others. When creatures respond well to God’s calls, God is pleased. Creaturely love and obedience depends on God’s initial activity. John put it this way, “We love, because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). When creatures fail to respond well to the call of love, God is grieved, angry, and forgives. God’s decisions about how to act in one moment depend in part upon how creatures responded in previous moments.

God’s relational love may seem eminently obvious. But not everyone has thought God relational. Aristotle famously rejected relational theology when he called God “the unmoved mover.” By this phrase, he meant God “moves” others, but others do not “move” God. Deity is unaffected, impassible, and aloof. According to Aristotle, God does nothing but think thoughts about Godself.

The idea that God is unmoved by creatures influenced Christian theologians throughout the centuries. Because Augustine considered God not in reciprocal relationship with creatures, he could not imagine how God loves creatures. God only loves himself. Thomas Aquinas called God “pure act” with no real relation to creatures.

In the 20th century, theologians as liberal as Paul Tillich and as conservative as Carl Henry said divine perfection meant creatures could not influence God. God was considered in all ways unchanging and unaffected by others.

Many Christians in the 20th and 21st centuries, however, believe God is better understood as relational. These believers think relational theology captures well the Bible’s witness to a loving God in relationship with others.

Some Christians point to the Trinity as the best example of God’s relational love. When Jesus says the Father is in him and he is in the Father (Jn. 14:11) and that the Father loves the Son (Jn. 5:20), Christians infer love relations exist witin Trinity. This intraTrinitarian love overflows to creation.

What is love?


To say the issues of love are central to relational theology should prompt us to describe what we mean by love. The word has many meanings. Love takes many forms and is expressed in a multitude of ways.

The confusion about love language is one reason many theologians do not take love as their central motif. This is regrettable, because love is central to Christian understandings of God, creation, salvation, ethics, ecclesiology, and host of other issues. Relational theology better accounts for many facets of love in Christian theology.

Although no definition is likely to capture fully what we mean by love, I propose this one as potentially better than others. I define love this way:

To love is to act intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.

I have explained each phrase of this definition in other writings. I focus here on the second phrase -- “in response to God and others” – for its importance for relational theology.

We know from our own experience that knowing another person well can be important for loving that person well. Well-informed relationships provide information for us when we consider how to be a blessing.

This principle applies to God’s love, and this is one reason God loves perfectly. God knows everything about us and the whole universe. God’s knowledge stems primarily from God’s presence with us. As omnipresent, God directly knows all that occurs.

Unfortunately, some think of God as an all-seeing eye floating above creation. “God is watching us from a distance,” to quote an old Bette Midler song. Rather than God being understood as relationally present to all creation, this view of reinforces nonrelational views of deity.

Imitating God’s love


The role of love in relational theology is not limited to God’s own love. Biblical passages say humans ought to love like God loves. The Apostle Paul puts it like this: “Imitate God, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love as Christ loved you…” (Eph. 5:1). Many Christians argue that Christ-like love is at the heart of living the holy life.

Love takes diverse forms, and we express love in various ways. Christians sometimes use ancient Greek words – agape, eros, and philia – to talk about the forms of love God calls them to express. Other times, Christians point to particularly important expressions of love, such as forgiveness, friendship, self-sacrifice, compassion, self-control, acts of justice, affection toward those in the church, and even sexual intercourse.

Jesus’ own acts of love took many of these forms and expressions. Rather than being one dimensional, his relational love was full-orbed. Jesus enjoyed fellowship and comraderie in love with disciples and others, for instance. He love children and helped those in need. Jesus gave his life for others. Jesus reveals that God’s love is full-orbed.

The relationality of love proves especially important in God’s call to love in particular ways. In moment-by-moment living, the loving thing often depends on the context. When others hurt us, for instance, God often calls us to express agape love that repays evil with good. When we find others suffering, God often calls us to express compassion. In these instances and others, the relations we have influence the kinds of love God call us to express.

Conclusion


It is little wonder Christians are attracted to relational theology. So long as they keep Scripture at the heart of how they understand God, the themes of love and the relations love require will continue to play primary a role in Christian life and doctrine.



I develop many of these arguments in my books and articles, including The Nature of Love: A Theology (St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice, 2010), Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love, with Michael Lodahl (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 2005), and Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2010).



What is Relational Theology?

http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/what_is_relational_theology/

by Thomas Jay Oord
January 13, 2011

Many Christians find the ideas and language of relational theology helpful. But many also appreciate relational theology without really being clear about what it is. Misunderstandings emerge.

As they read the Bible, Christians frequently encounter relational theology’s ideas and language. Unfortunately, however, conventional Christian theologies have sometimes ignored relational ideas and language. The conventional theology that results is sometimes impractical and nonsensical.

The Bible describes the activities and nature of a relational God. God created “in the beginning” and invited creatures to “bring forth” others in creative activity. God’s interactions with Adam and Eve portray God as relational. From the beginning, God instructs, expects, and responds to creatures – all of which are relational activities.

The Bible tells us God makes covenants with Israel and all creation. God’s covenant making demonstrates God’s relationality. Because God is relational, sinful behavior makes God angry. But positive responses and ongoing relationship deepens the relational friendship God shares with creatures. Biblical authors repeatedly proclaim that a God of steadfast love never gives up on the relationship God initiates and seeks to develop.

In Jesus Christ, the relational God is specially incarnated. In him, we have the fullest revelation of God as relational. Jesus teaches that God is our Abba (Father), an intimately relational description. God calls us to enter into a mutually loving relationship – what Jesus announces as the greatest commandment. Jesus reinforces Old Testament themes about the importance of love relations. Christians are commanded to love believers and unbelievers, friends and enemies, the near and dear as well as the stranger.

The Christian community emerging soon after God raised Jesus from the dead was Holy Spirit empowered. This budding community emphasized from its inception the importance of interrelatedness. As the Church, they ate together and shared things in common. They worshipped and prayed together. They shared the Lord’s Supper as a community. Christians embarked as the Church on a give-and-receive mission of relational love.

Core Ideas of Relational Theology

If God created a relational universe and relational people, it should come as little surprise that recent developments in science, philosophy, and culture reveal the interrelatedness of all existence. Relationality is present at the quantum level. It profoundly shapes personal and social levels of existence. And relational perspectives influence scientific research of the distant edges of our cosmos.

What makes relational theology distinct is its general approach to thinking about God’s interaction with creation. At its core, relational theology affirms two key ideas:

1. God affects creatures in various ways. Instead of being aloof and detached, God is active and involved in relationship with others. God relates to us, and that makes an essential difference.

2. Creatures affect God in various ways. While God’s nature is unchanging, creatures influence the loving and living Creator of the universe. We relate to God, and creation makes a difference to God.

Of course, those who embrace relational theology typically embrace other theological ideas too. For instance, many think God’s primary attribute is love, and many believe God’s chief desire is that people love others as themselves. Most think God relates within Trinity, and Jesus Christ best reveals God’s relational love. Most think God and creatures are genuinely free, at least to some degree. Most emphasize the importance of relationships in the Church, outside the Church, and relationships with all creation. Most think relational categories are central to Christian ethics and should be guides to get along with others – both human and nonhuman – on our planet. The list goes on.

People interpret variously what the two main ideas of relational theology entail. Because of these diverse interpretations, relational theology is like a big umbrella idea under which various theological alternatives reside. We might illustrate the umbrella like this

Relational Theology

Many Missional theologiesMany Arminian &Holiness theologiesMost Feminist/or Womanist theologiesMost Open theologiesMost Trinitarian theologiesMost Process theologiesMost Wesleyan theologiesMany Liberation/or Postcolonial theologiesOther theologies

Some people adopt one theological alternative but reject another under the relational umbrella. For instance, some people adopt Trinitarian theology as the primary way they think about Christian theology but reject Process theology. Others embrace both Trinitarian and Process theologies. Or, for instance, some feminist theologians do not identify as Arminian. Others do. A person need not embrace all theologies under the umbrella.

It is also important to note that some theologians embrace a number of theological traditions simultaneously. For instance, a person might say she is Wesleyan, liberation, process, and Trinitarian. Another person might say he is Arminian, missional, and open. Still others might embrace one theology and not another listed above. For instance, a person might be Process, emergent, and Pentecostal. Many other combinations exist.

Confusion sometimes emerges when people identify relational theology with personalities or character traits we might consider “relational.” People who are friendly, sociable, or highly empathetic do not necessarily embrace the ideas of relational theology. Of course, we usually hope people develop adequate social sensibilities. But a relational theologian is not automatically an expert at relating to other people!

To the extent that Christians seek to be Christlike, however, relational theology can encourage loving interactions and character traits that promote positive relationships. We best understand the Apostle Paul’s command to “imitate God, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love as Christ loved us…” (Eph. 5:1, 2), for instance, in relational terms. Those who consistently heed Paul’s counsel develop into the kind of people we call “virtuous” or “saints.”

We could say much more about relational theology. In fact, that’s exactly what Brint Montgomery, Karen Winslow, I, and others are doing. We’re putting together a book to explore in an accessible way what relational theology is and what its implications might be.

Keep an eye out for our book next fall!