According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Madeline L'Engel & Thomas Oord - Being Light in the Darkness

"A Wrinkle in Time" author Madeline L'Engel's postmodern day counterpart is theologian Thomas Jay Oord who similarly deals with the issues of light and darkness - of how a loving and sovereign God acts in a world filled with sin and evil. In essence, God’s love makes a real and direct difference in the world and that without it there would be no hope. Evil would fill the entirety of its condition where no goodness or love could be found.

Yet God's love makes a real difference against evil when men and women submit to His divine love providing outcomes to creation which could not exist without creaturely obedience in response to the divine call, revelation, and examples set forth in Scripture (Jesus, for one) by God's positive, direct actions to love.

God's love is a love which partners with His creation without coercion, controlling, or determining obedience. Like a marriage partnership, He works within the limits we allow Him who fills His children with love and goodness when tempted at all times to give up, to allow sin and evil full reign. Little Meg in L'Engel's story fought against this same urge to discover she had the power to say no to evil when allowing the love and light of God's presence to guide her actions.

Some Christian groups call this incarnating moments of Jesus when God's presence in our faith in Him become pregnant with empowerment by His Holy Spirit. Other Christians, using less direct Christian descriptions, sense only the power and presence of a loving God asking us to say yes to Him that He might bring hope and healing not only to ourselves but to those around us in fundamental acts of Christlike actions.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
March 13, 2018

Reference Links:

 


What Does God’s Love Do?
http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/what-does-gods-love-do#undefined.gbpl

by Thomas Jay Oord
March 7, 2018

If God’s love is uncontrolling, what does it actually do? Is God uninvolved in our lives? Or is God more like an object that inspires without directly affecting us?

In a recent International Journal of Systematic Theology article, Kevin Vanhoozer offered a dialogue between John Webster’s views of love and my own. Kevin wonders if my view of God’s uncontrolling love means God is ineffective in bring real change.

In this essay, I explain that God’s uncontrolling love makes a real and direct difference in the world.

What Divine Love Does

Vanhoozer wonders what God’s love actually does. “If it is real,” he says, “it should make a difference.” I agree.

My theology emphasizes that God’s love makes an actual difference in creation. God acts in many ways to promote wellbeing. God is the necessary cause in the existence of everything, moment by moment. But I do not think God’s action controls others.

I often refer to Aristotelean notions of causation when explaining my view. I think God expresses love as efficient, final, or formal causes, for instance. But God never acts as a sufficient cause. That would involve divine control. God always loves, and divine love is uncontrolling.

God’s love is more than an example that we might find inspiring. It is also directly affecting us moment by moment, empowering us to choose.

An Uncontrolling God Acts

Vanhoozer’s comments remind me of a worry the philosopher Arthur Holmes once raised. Holmes argued against theologies that say God lovingly persuades but never coerces. To him, the God who persuades “cannot act.”[1]

Holmes seems not to see the important distinction between 1) acting that affects outcomes and 2) acting that unilaterally determines. The vast majority of, if not all, actions we witness in the world affect others without controlling them.

In my view, God’s always acts, and divine love is action that makes a difference. Creatures or creation more generally cannot prevent God from acting. The outcomes God desires for creation, however, require creaturely response. Because God’s actions are always loving, God never singlehandedly determines others to generate outcomes.

The Marriage Proposal

I acted when asking my fiancé’ to marry me. Her favorable response, however, was required for the outcome I desired.

If I had tried to force, control, or unilaterally determine her, few would call such coercion loving. If she responds positively to me, however, we can say my action made a difference in generating the outcome I wanted: marriage. I think divine love is analogous.

Of course, I’m happy to say that my marriage proposal was accepted, and Cheryl and I have been married for almost 30 years. And my goal for our marriage to be excellent still requires her response. One person cannot guarantee a happy marriage!

God’s Love is Effective

Vanhoozer introduces a word in his essay that I do not think describes my view of God’s action well. That word is “non-effectual.” When summarizing my theology, he says I believe “God thus loves creatures not by strongly causing (i.e., determining) good things, but rather by constantly issuing non-effectual calls, thus weakly causing good things (when they happen).”

The word “non-effectual,” as Vanhoozer uses it, might sound as though he thinks my view entails that God’s actions do not produce any effect. He apparently means by “non-effectual” that I am claiming God’s actions do not necessarily produce God’s desired effect.[2]

To describe my view better, Vanhoozer might rephrase his sentence. The revised sentence might say “God loves creatures not by controlling events and thereby unilaterally causing good things but rather by constantly calling and empowering creatures, thereby symbiotically causing good things (as creation cooperates).”

This alternative statement rightly emphasizes my view that God’s actions are causal but not controlling. God’s actions in the world require creaturely cooperation to produce the results God wants. God’s actions prompt creatures to act in ways to produce some desired effect, but they do not necessarily produce such an effect.

Is Strong Divine Action “Determining?”

In summarizing my view, Vanhoozer says “strong” divine action is “determining.” This implies that weak divine action involves lack of control, in the sense of not producing the desired effect necessarily.

It seems that Vanhoozer believes controlling others to produce desired outcomes is the “stronger” form of power. I once believed this. But as I have argued in various publications, I now believe God’s almighty power is uncontrolling love.[3] And as I argued in previous blogs, this uncontrolling love can do miracles.

I believe the strongest form of power is cooperative rather than controlling. And many essayists in the new book, Uncontrolling Love, seem to agree.

God Acts as an Omnipresent Spirit

Let me conclude with brief words about God’s being. Like most theologians, I think that God is incorporeal. God is spirit (Jn. 4:24). I deny that God has a localized, physical, divine body with which God exerts an impact.

The biblical notions of God as ruach and pneuma are important for understanding why God fails to prevent genuine evil. While in some instances we use our bodies to prevent evil, God as spirit has no localized divine body to use in this way.

As spirit, God exerts efficient causation of the sort we think metaphysically analogous to other causal occurrences in the world. But efficient causation does not mean sufficient causation. Affecting others doesn’t mean controlling them.

One view of the human mind-body relationship helps as an analogy. Just as our minds exert efficient causal influence upon our bodies without entirely determining them, so God as spirit exerts causal influence upon creatures without entirely determining them. God acts causally without controlling others.[4]

Conclusion

God always acts, and we creatures cannot control God. God’s love is uncontrollable.

But God’s actions never control creatures. “Love does not force its own way,” to quote the Apostle Paul. Or to put it my language, God’s love always influences but is also always uncontrolling.


TJO

Notes

[1] Arthur F. Holmes, “Why God Cannot Act,” in Process Theology, ed. Ronald Nash (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1987).

[2] I am grateful to Kevin Vanhoozer for responding to a first draft of this essay and clarifying what he means by “effectual.” I tried to incorporate his thoughts here.

[3] See my books, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2010); The Nature of Love: A Theology; and The Uncontrolling Love of God.

[4] For more on God acting as a spirit, see my essay, “The Divine Spirit as Causal and Personal,” in Zygon 48, no. 2 (2013): 466-77.


* * * * * * * * * *


Against a personal struggle to make sense of evil L'Engle found a way to communicate her Christian faith to a world struggling with the same: “If I’ve ever written a book that says what I feel about God and the universe, this is it,” L’Engle wrote in her journal about “A Wrinkle in Time.” “This is my Psalm of praise to life, my stand for life against death.”

R.E. Slater
March 13, 2018

“A Wrinkle in Time” author Madeleine L’Engle. (Crosswicks) 

Publishers rejected her, Christians attacked her: The deep faith of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ author Madeleine L’Engle

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/03/08/publishers-rejected-her-christians-attacked-her-the-deep-faith-of-a-wrinkle-in-time-author-madeleine-lengle/?utm_term=.88714a8525aa

March 8, 2018

It took 26 publisher rejections before Madeleine L’Engle could get “A Wrinkle in Time” into print in 1962. The book was an instant hit, winning the Newbery Medal the following year, but despite its wild success, L’Engle still had fierce critics — including a good number of them who disliked her book for faith reasons.

While L’Engle considered herself a devout Christian, and sprinkled the book with scriptural references, she was accused by some conservative Christians of promoting witchcraft and the occult — an accusation made later against “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.

The religious wariness likely also contributed to some publishers’ rejection of the book, but it didn’t stop “A Wrinkle in Time” from being popular for more than 50 years after it was finally saw the light.

A Disney film adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time,” which opens Thursday, stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine and Zach Galifianakis, and is directed by Ava DuVernay of “Selma.” In the story, 13-year-old Meg Murry, played in the film by Storm Reid, is guided by three angelic beings on a quest to find her father, a scientist who had gone missing.

“If I’ve ever written a book that says what I feel about God and the universe, this is it,” L’Engle wrote in her journal about “A Wrinkle in Time.” “This is my psalm of praise to life, my stand for life against death.”

Ava DuVernay's adaptation of the classic book has an all-star cast, including
Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling.(Walt Disney Pictures)


Before she died in 2007 at age 88, L’Engle was the rare writer who ran in both liberal mainline Protestant circles and elite literary ones in New York City, and who also had made conservative evangelical fans around the country. L’Engle was part of an exclusive society of authors, including Eugene Peterson, Richard Foster and Philip Yancey, who remain popular among evangelical readers.

“Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys,” L’Engle wrote in her book “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.”

L’Engle is sometimes compared with 20th-century British author C.S. Lewis, who wrote popular children’s literature, as well as books defending and explaining the Christian faith. L’Engle graduated from Smith College, and a collection of her papers is held at Wheaton College, the evangelical school in the Chicago suburbs that also holds some of Lewis’s papers.

She wrote that publishers had trouble with “A Wrinkle in Time” “because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was too difficult for children, and was it a children’s or an adult’s book, anyhow?”

“A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle. (Square Fish) 

A woman named Claris Van Kuiken, who was a member of the Christian Reformed Church, wrote a 1996 book titled “Battle to Destroy Truth,” tying L’Engle’s work to New Age spirituality. She argued that L’Engle’s works “preserved the ‘ancient wisdom’ or ‘secret doctrine’ condemned by God Himself.”

L’Engle was baffled and frustrated by some of the vitriol she faced from fellow Christians, her granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis said Wednesday. Although she once considered herself an atheist, after L’Engle became a Christian, she had a daily practice of reading the Bible and praying. Her granddaughter said L’Engle’s coming to her faith was slower “acceptance of what she had always known to be true,” rather than a sudden conversion moment.

“She was a Christian because she was deeply rooted in its traditions and language, and she was moved by and trusted in its stories,” Voiklis said.

Although L’Engle did not like denominational labels, she mostly attended Episcopal churches, serving for about four decades as a librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, an Episcopal church and one of the largest cathedrals in the world.

“The themes that are important in Christianity permeate her writing: good and bad, light and darkness,” said the Rev. Patrick Malloy, subdean of the cathedral. “She was open to questions and to looking at new ways to say old things.”

In the 1990s, L’Engle began attending Sunday services at All Angels Church, an Episcopal church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side known for attracting artists. She wanted the smaller community of All Angels but still attended noon prayer and evensong services at St. John the Divine, Voiklis said.

St. John the Divine Cathedral. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey) 

Voiklis, who co-authored “Becoming Madeleine,”said her grandmother’s faith informed everything she wrote, including numerous books, plays and poems.

“She preferred scientific metaphors, and scientists to theologians, because she understood that science is more open to revelation than religion,” Voiklis said. “Religion divides us into teams.”

L’Engle wrote that “A Wrinkle in Time” was her rebuttal to German theologians, who she complained were too rigid in their answers to cosmic questions. “It was also my affirmation of a universe in which I could take note of all the evil and unfairness and horror and yet believe in a loving Creator,” she wrote in “Walking on Water.”

But some conservative Christians took offense to elements of “A Wrinkle in Time,” including what they saw as relativism. The book lists Jesus alongside the names of famous artists, philosophers, scientists and Buddha.

The idea of conformity is one of the major themes in the novel, which was published during an era when Communism thrived. Conservative Christians were not only confused by the book, said Don Hettinga, an English professor at Calvin College, but they also proved its point by forcing conformity to a certain way of thinking.

“A Wrinkle in Time” author Madeleine L’Engle. (Crosswicks) 

L’Engle was not afraid to push buttons, said Luci Shaw, a poet, co-author, editor and a friend of L’Engle’s for more than three decades. She said L’Engle was a universalist, believing that all humankind will be invited into heaven, and she loved gay people at a time when many Christians were suspicious of them.

“Many conservative churches draw a circle, and certain people can’t enter the circle because they haven’t been baptized or committed themselves to Christ,” Shaw said. “Jesus drew a circle that was much bigger, and it included everybody. She had a broad sense that we’re all in this together, that God’s love is the power that runs the world.”

In some ways, L’Engle could be compared with Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Gilead”; a member of the liberal-leaning United Church of Christ, Robinson still finds fans among conservative evangelicals. But L’Engle was likely more controversial because she was writing for children, said Sarah Arthur, author of a forthcoming biography of L’Engle titled “A Light So Lovely.”

“If Madeleine had backed off from theology, it would’ve been safer,” Arthur said. Her literary friends often didn’t understand why she had to write so much about faith, Arthur said, while she received criticism from some conservative Christians. Yet she straddled both the Christian publishing world and a nonreligious publishing world in ways most authors cannot.

Hollywood has sometimes struggled with films that have spiritual or religious undertones. The film “Noah” received backlash for its loose interpretation of biblical narratives. “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” about Moses, was criticized for whitewashing the characters. And some filmmakers don’t include religion at all: Angelina Jolie’s film “Unbroken,” an adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s book on Olympian Louis Zamperini, did not include his Christian conversion.

The film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic sci-fi fantasy novel “A Wrinkle in
Time” had its trailer debuted at the D23 Disney convention in Anaheim. (Reuters)

Early reviews of “A Wrinkle in Time” are mixed, drawing a 44 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And a film starring Oprah, who is also controversial among some conservative Christians, might not attract the same kind of crowd that soaked up films such as “The Passion of the Christ,” “The Blind Side” and Disney’s adaptation of Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Arthur fears that the film could turn L’Engle’s work into a “ ‘power of positive thinking’ approach to spirituality.”

“There are a lot of people who believe the strength that you need to fight the darkness is in you,” Arthur said. “But it’s because they were connected to the source of light who is Jesus. If it’s unmoored from Madeleine’s Christian faith, it’s missing a big piece of the spiritual thrust of what she was doing.”

The film, which preserves “a more vague spirituality,” makes no effort to appeal to the moviegoing audience that typically flocks to Christian movies, writes Alissa Wilkinson, a film critic at Vox and an English professor at King’s College in New York City. Instead of including particulars about many religions, Wilkinson writes, the film smooths “them all out into a vague swirl of ‘love.’ ”

Would L’Engle have liked Hollywood’s adaptation? Her granddaughter, who saw an early version, said it gave her the “same feelings of inspiration and optimism” as the book.

Hettinga, who had not seen the film, believes L’Engle would have loved the reinterpretation that made the main character, Meg Murry, a black girl from an interracial marriage. For its time, L’Engle’s book was groundbreaking by portraying Murry’s mother as a well-educated scientist with two doctoral degrees.

“I think she would like something that caught the spirit and wouldn’t try to be literal,” Hettinga said.

SPB

* * * * * * * * * *


Additional References to L'Engel's work

“The wound is the place where the light [must] enter you.” – Rumi, Persian


One of the many themes of the movie speaks to the idea of conformity. Says L'Engel's daughter: "...The story wasn't a simple allegory of communism; in a three-page passage that was cut before publication, the process of domination is said to be an outcome of dictatorship under totalitarian regimes, AND by an excessive desire of security under democratic countries." Now isn't that interesting? It wasnt until a year ago in 2017 that many can now see the truth of how fear brings about so much damage to a society. - re slater


I loved the mystery and wonder in the first third of the movie and had wished it persisted throughout the script though at some point one has to acknowledge that each of us deserves love and that this affirmation needs to be repeatedly expressed enough until it finds a home within our souls against all the words and lies which too often lingers in our ears holding its message back. - re slater



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