Christian Realism 9

So what is Christian realism? What are its central principles? The last chp in John Stackhouse, Making the Best of It, outlines the principles of Christian realism. I’m about to give you a quotation from this book and I’d like to hear your response:
To describe Christian realism, I’d quote this passage from Stackhouse (p. 288), and I quote it for you to see how you respond to it. Is this, in other words, the way we are called to behave?

Most of the time, then, we know what to do and must simply do it. Sometimes, however, the politician has to hold his nose and make a deal. The chaplain has to encourage his fellow soldiers in a war he deeply regrets. The professor has to teach fairly a theory or philosophy she doesn’t think is true. The police officer has to subdue a criminal with deadly force. We are on a slippery slope indeed — and one shrouded in darkness, with the ground not only slippery but shifting under our feet. So we hold on to God’s hand, and each other’s, and make the best of it.

Now four principles — with lots of subpoints and nuances and qualifications:
1. A mixed field, mixed motives, and mixed results: This might be the best section in this whole book. He uses the parable of the wheat and tares to show that world is mixed, we have to co-exist, and we will work with various motives and we not always get what we hope. There is sin and graft and there is ambivalence. So, we cannot hold out for all-or-nothing results.
2. The Normal … and beyond: the goal is steering societies, converting communities, improving individuals. A big idea here is that cultural precesses are not controllable and history doesn’t take straight lines. (He has a long section, slightly drawn out by too many nuances, on miracles and the normal.)
So, and here is another way Stackhouse defines realism: we either choose never to do something prohibited in the Bible or … big one … we “do whatever will be truest to the revelation of the will of God, taken as a whole, recognizing that in a topsy turvy world sometimes one must do what one would never do in Eden or in the New Jerusalem, something that is objectively impure but that nonetheless is the best of the available options and will produce the most shalom in the situation” (275).
That’s it. That’s what realism is.
So, we need to see where we are in the Story, we need to recall both the creation commandments and the redemption commandments, we need to see that in the Story God enters into a world of violence, and we need to distinguish our work from God’s work. (Those commands: cultivate the earth, love God-love others, love each other in the church, and make disciples of all nations.)
3. Faith and faithfulness: we are to trust God, to trust ourselves, to trust others.
4. Liberty and cooperation: our own liberty, the liberty of others, and unity and diversity in the church.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com josenmiami

    thanks for suggesting the book. I read it and enjoyed it and I am still poindering sone of the implications. I think his emphasis is a healthy antidote to Christian idealism and utopianism, of which I have imbided more than my share in times past.

  • http://www.reclinerramblings.blogspot.com Michael Cline

    Stackhouse: “…something that is objectively impure but that nonetheless is the best of the available options and will produce the most shalom in the situation.”
    In this sense, being “real” sure sounds a lot like being utilitarian.
    Stackhouse’s use of the parable of the wheat and the tares is interesting. The metaphor has been connected by theologians to the visible Chruch, the “corpus mixtum.” But by going a step further, Stackhouse identifies this as a chief characteristic of the world. At least the way I read it, for theologians such as Augustine, the Church is a mixed bag due to the fact that many within Her visible walls are not holy in the way that God desires. That is often just the way it is. But the way at which Stackhouse seems to go about it would seem to encourage Christians to contribute to the pot–to simply continue accepting the “mixed” nature of the Church and live in the tension.
    While I think this tension exists, and often we do have to live with it, I would rather spend more time encouraging people to be holy as individuals as an effort to make the visible Church more holy. The last thing we need in our world today is to accept where we are and sit on it (all the while using theological language and coming up with new /old ways to be “real.”)
    To me, Stackhouse passes over the real tough areas where many people employ this “realism.” Sure, for some, being a chaplain and encouraging soldiers might be a “sell out” to realism. But let’s talk about the real issues. When does “realism” advocate the chaplain to pick up a gun? And how does a professor teaching a philosophy he/she doesn’t agree with connect with a police officer using deadly force? These aren’t even on the same playing field for most people.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John Frye

    I wonder if the push back on Stackhouse’s Christian realism will be the accusation of situational (Christian)ethics, i.e., Christian relativism. However, I think Stackhouse’s Christian realism is worth considering as an alernative to the prevailing tidy Christian moralism which wants to be guided by clear rules, biblical “principles” and outright commands. Christian realism does take the revealed God Story very seriously and the presence and wisdom of the Spirit seriously. We end up needing situational discernment, not a mandate.
    Thanks for posting on this issue, Scot.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    John,
    One thing I’ve realized in reading this book by Stackhouse is that I totally agree with his method of reading the Bible (which I also saw in his Finally Feminist), and this new book on realism makes me wonder if my “realist” reading of the Bible means my Anabaptist orientation has to give way some.
    In other words, I tend to think Anabaptists read the words of Jesus as time-less but read the OT as time-ly and time-bound. Stackhouse reads all the words of the Bible as time-ly/time-bound and it leads to the need for discernment, and therefore asking a different question:
    Not just what did the Bible say?
    But how do we, as followers of Jesus, live that Bible out in our world?
    That’s not relativism; that’s discernment.
    The accusation of relativism comes from those who want to turn the Bible into timelessness and who tend to tread the Bible as a series of commands.

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Michael,
    Augustine was wrong seeing that parable about the church. It is about the church in the world. That is stated in the parable when it says “the field is the world.” So Stackhouse accepts the reality that the church is mixed in the world.
    My read of Stackhouse is that he doesn’t settle for where we are and he urges Christians to holiness — chp 8 is almost a sermon!
    On guns and professors … as a professor I’m not sure I’d agree with you. They are wildly different kinds of examples, to be sure, but professors worth their salt know that some ideas, if presented well and compellingly instead of simply and with barbs in the presentation, could lead a student to a place where the professor would feel like he or she betrayed his or her faith and views. Some professors, to be sure, are highly skilled at showing the good and bad of a variety of views; most professors I know are also advocates of viewpoints they believe in deeply. For some professors there is a “pastoral” or “personal” element and sometimes that element is challenged by the need to be “objective” and fair about another view that would have different pastoral or personal implications.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com josenmiami

    Sorry for my misspelling above; I intended to say “pondering” not “poindering.” I made the mistake of writing before I finished my first cup of coffee.
    Your comment about the reading of scripture, Scot, is thought-provoking. For years, as a church-planter, I placed more weight on Paul’s epistles than other parts of the Bible. Then, as my life situation changed about 5 or 6 years ago, I began to view the epistles as somewhat ‘time-bound’ and placed more weight on the gospels, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. I think I might have to plead guilty to viewing Matthew 5-7 as universal and timeless. I may have become more Anabaptist that I had realized. Thanks for giving me more to “poinder.”

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Couple thoughts.
    1) I had a prof who said something like, “Don’t use situational ethics, but remember, all decisions are made in a situation.”
    2) This reminds me a little bit of Bonhoeffer. It seems to me that Bonhoeffer felt that some of the actions he took might be sin, yet he was making the best of the available options. I think this is the sense of “it is worse to be evil than to do evil.”

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    MatthewS,
    Stackhouse, so it seems to me, would take that “reminds me a little bit of Bonhoeffer” as a nice compliment!

  • Travis Greene

    Somebody somewhere says the problem is too many Christians want the Bible to be a general that wakes you up in the morning and says “Do this!”. But the Bible is really more like an old man who says “Let me tell you a story.”
    Stackhouse’s view certainly makes it easier to deal with OT passages having to do with military conquest and battles with the Philistines and so forth. For me this is part of the Incarnation; God has to enter real history and deal with the “facts on the ground”. This isn’t a concession to relativism. It’s an essential part of the gospel.
    I like his argument that we are, in fact, always on a slippery slope. It doesn’t mean anything goes. Take the example of the policeman. He may have to use deadly force, but that doesn’t mean we should execute people who aren’t an imminent threat for reasons of vengeance. Now of course we do in fact execute people (at least where I live), but we shouldn’t. And I fight for a world in which we won’t. But I also don’t consider the policeman a murderer. He did the best he could in a bad situation.
    And rooting all this in the Story reminds us that the bad situation is temporary. The slippery slope will one day be washed away, and the Utopia so many long for will be revealed by the One who will enable us to finally and fully live out his impossible commands.

  • http://hopeful-daniel.blogspot.com Daniel

    Scot, I agree with you that Anabaptists tend to read Jesus’ words as timeless. NT Wright and Andrew Perriman have been healthy antidotes to such a misreading of Scripture for me.
    Nevertheless, I do take it Jesus intended to give his community of followers certain distinctive marks (certainly, e.g., baptism and communion, but also love for the poor, of justice, purity of heart). My own Anabaptism then, issues from my understanding of 1. the Church as God’s people/set apart nation, and 2. (lethal) violence as the sole perogative of God (as in, e.g. Romans 12-13).
    I wonder, does Stackhouse try to address the practical implications of Christian realism? It seems like a longstanding criticism pacifists make of just war theorists is that their criteria are all well and good, but in practice, they stunt our imagination and tend to lead us to violence more quickly, more enthusiastically, and more often.
    If you start down the path of consequentialist reasoning, I wonder if those consequences need to be taken into account…
    My two cents.
    -Daniel-

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Scot #4
    “Stackhouse reads all the words of the Bible as time-ly/time-bound and it leads to the need for discernment…”
    Bingo! I think you’ve hit one of the key points for me.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Scot, in my book I have highlighted the paragraph preceding the one you quoted:
    “Sometimes, then, some of us must improvise. As Bonhoeffer reminds us, in certain extreme situations we cannot settle for living “correctly” according to some neat ethical calculus we have devised and congratulating ourselves for our integrity while blaming God for whatever happens next. We are responsible to care for the earth and to love our neighbor as best we can, and if we think we can do that better in an unusual way that leaves us vulnerable to second-guessing and maybe even to error, we nonetheless should do it. For what is the alternative? It is to shrink back from this possibility and settle for the safety of the rule book, the comfort of the clear but circumscribed conscience.” (288)
    Key to Stackhouse’s thinking is the need to fully embrace two realities. First, we are to tirelessly work for the greatest shalom possible. Second shalom will only fully be realized in the new creation.
    These two realities place us in great tension. We are finite broken eikons who can’t possibly always exercise correct discernment but we want assurance that in whatever we do we have done the right thing. We seek relief from the tension by minimizing one of the two realities. We let go of the first reality and we slide into complacent accommodation to the world or we let go of the second reality and we slide into (often moralistic) idealism. God calls us to remain in the tension, be faithful to him, and trust him for justification and the final outcomes.

  • RJS

    You know Scot, I think that a “realist” reading of the Bible means that as “Christ’s ones” we follow God with discernment, through the Spirit. Nothing else is worth holding with a closed fist (Anabaptism, Calvinism, Catholicism, Lutheranism, sola scriptura, inerrancy, …). All are time-relative, culturally informed, readings of the story. If we believe in God, we believe in his story, we believe in his providential action. It is hard to reconcile the “closed fist” isms with the providential action of God in history to preserve and guide his church.
    The problem, of course, is that this feels like a slippery slope shifting under our feet – and when we hold on to God’s hand, and each other’s, and make the best of it, many will take advantage of this situation to leave “God’s Story” or to substitute God’s Story with an individualistic or humanist agenda. But it all takes me back to the discussions here on centered set vs. bounded set Christianity – realism is centered on God not bounded by dogma.
    And in deference to the other major post of the day – I hold these conclusions with an open hand, open to conversation and revision, but as the result of several decades of struggling with what it means to be Christian in our world.

  • Angie

    Christian realism is: Accept that life “works” a certain way and those that know how it works land “on top”, the others are “pacified” with “hope-filled platitudes” about God’s Sovereignty and learning to “do good”…virtue based ethics for the “used one”…while the others shrug and say “we don’t live in a perfect world” and “we didn’t mean evil”..and “God means it for good”…No, why bring God into it at all..it is what it is….and that is: unloving, unkind, inconsiderate, selfish, moralizing, self-righteous, ETC…
    ON the Other Hand; we cannot work in an “objective world” without ethical obscurity…the complexity and contingency of the world without someone getting “shot in the foot” because relationships are personal interactions, while the corporate world is not…and when we mix the two, we get into ethical dilemmas, “good ole boy networks”, etc…No, I don’t believe that you have to “decieve” as you suggest, by teaching, leading, guiding others without honesty. What one stands for is important to hold onto for without it, one looses respect for oneself and that is the greatest evil. Can we live with “moral obscurity” within a certain organization? I know a friend who left a high-paying international corporation because he felt ethically challenged to do some things he felt were inappropriate… Should he have stayed on regardless? That depends on many personal assessments. That is why we cannot make a moral judgment for another…based on “Scripture alone”…it is not simplistic or easy solutions…

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John Frye

    Michael Kruse (#12),
    Thank you for these comments: “These two realities place us in great tension. We are finite broken *eikons* who can’t possibly always exercise correct discernment but we want assurance that in whatever we do we have done the right thing. We seek relief from the tension by minimizing one of the two realities. We let go of the first reality and we slide into complacent accommodation to the world or we let go of the second reality and we slide into (often moralistic) idealism. God calls us to remain in the tension, be faithful to him, and trust him for justification and the final outcomes.”
    First, this perspective calls for radical faith AND human decision and action because the *certain* or *correct* choice/action is not always evident. A moral codebook requires no faith; just compliance (I don’t write *obedience* because I don’t want to dilute that important term).
    Second, justification as you use it seems to fall in line with NPP (NT Wright), coming in the end, not some prior legal transaction in the sky between God, Jesus and people.
    Stuff to think about.

  • RJS

    John – A moral codebook requires no faith and a moral codebook requires no Spirit. We walk in step with the Spirit right? Just another thought.

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    Scot,
    The part you quoted, especially in conjunction with the part Michael quoted, reminds me strongly of D. Willard’s take on the SoM and the NT generally. Essentially he argued that Jesus isn’t giving laws which one can unthinkingly, and perhaps even resentfully, apply to every analogous situation. Rather, Jesus is describing generally what a citizen of God’s kingdom will do in this age; he is illustrating and inviting us into the kingdom’s character and nature and (thereby) routine way of acting. This means that generally a person of the kingdom will act in the way Jesus describes, but not always. Sometimes it will be appropriate to pray in public (maybe even so that a certain person will see us!), sometimes we will not give something to the person who takes from us for some good reason, sometimes we will not go the second mile if made to go one (perhaps we are a doctor and there is another emergency?), sometimes we should not pray “the Lord’s prayer” when we pray, etc. Stackhouse and Willard seem very similar here.
    Also, I totally sympathize with you and appreciate your comment in number 4. Just when I, for myself and as a lawyer, had concluded that suing another was simply wrong (with very narrow exceptions), I got a client whom I became convinced God wanted to defend and uphold through legal action–and he didn’t fit one of my narrow exceptions. That’s when I really bought into Willard’s argument (which is in the Divine Conspiracy, BTW. Any plans to review that soon? It’s not new, but it’s had and continues to have a very wide and strong influence, especially but by no means exclusively in the emerging church.)
    I guess in more ways than I realized, I am a Christian realist. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed!

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    T #17
    Stackhouse quotes Willard only once in the book but I had flashes of “Divine Conspiracy” multiple times as I read this book. “Divine Conspiracy” is easily one of the top ten most important books I’ve ever read. I may have to do a series on DC one day at my blog, as well as on Stackhouse’s book. Problem is I could probably spend a year on each. :)

  • Terry Tiessen

    Scot,
    I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read John’s book yet and I appreciate your introduction to it. Norman Geisler has helpfully identified the various frameworks from which Christians approach situations of apparent moral conflict. I’m trying to place the following perspective from your post within that larger issue.
    “we either choose never to do something prohibited in the Bible or … big one … we “do whatever will be truest to the revelation of the will of God, taken as a whole, recognizing that in a topsy turvy world sometimes one must do what one would never do in Eden or in the New Jerusalem, something that is objectively impure but that nonetheless is the best of the available options and will produce the most shalom in the situation””
    It doesn’t sound like the conflicting absolutist perspective which urges us, when we must sin, to do the lesser evil and ask God for forgiveness since we had no choice but to sin. The proposal you describe would fit, however, within graded absolutism or hierarchicalism. This is Geisler’s own preference and it argues that when faced with two moral wrongs as our only option we are absolved from obedience to the lower norm by our obedience to the higher.
    I wonder if the rest of the book clearly puts John within one or other of those approaches.
    For some time, I agreed with Geisler’s moral hierarchicalist approach but I eventually concluded that it lacked sufficient biblical support. So, these days, I’m a non-conflicting absolutist, like John Murray. I believe that we will never find ourselves in a situation where our only choices are sinful. I take this position for two main reasons. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, I hear a promise that we will never find ourselves tempted to sin in a situation where sin is inevitable. Secondly, I think that the Hebrews statement that Jesus was tempted in all the ways we are and yet did not sin points us in the non-conflicting absolutist direction.
    It doesn’t sound to me as though John’s proposal falls into this category. In the realism that you have described, however, I hear a helpful description of the moral complexity of our situation as still unglorified sinners living in a fallen world. Moral discernment is essential. We need to understand thoroughly the moral teaching of Scripture as imbedded in its metanarrative. But, it should always be our goal to do what is right, acting with a clear conscience because we act as we believe the Spirit of God guides us to, through the Scripture. Sometimes, however, we simply cannot discern that and yet we must act. Sometimes, we act with a clear conscience and later conclude that we had misconstrued God’s moral will. Thankfully, God does forgive sinners. In fact, I am convinced that we are judged by God according to our own conscience so that even when we sin objectively, God does not hold us morally accountable, provided we do not sin subjectively, i.e., if we believe that we are doing God’s will. I take this to be the point of Romans 2. Once we know that we sinned objectively, however, we do seek forgiveness for sins done in ignorance.
    I feel like a Christian realist, but I have a hunch I may be coming at it somewhat differently than John.
    Shalom,
    Terry

  • http://www.theo-blogy.blogspot.com Mike Swalm

    Scot and others,
    does Stackhouse ever root his “Christian Realism” in the life of Jesus? That is, does his argument for his understanding of this ethical stance include the principles of the life of Christ (renouncement of power/violence etc.) and if so, how does he do this? Would he argue that Jesus was a “realist”, or is it only the fallen who follow Jesus that can be realists, because we are fallen?
    While i would probably follow a similar understanding of scripture (as in your comment regarding Stackhouse, Scot), I don’t think I can come to a place of Christian “realism”. The pragmatism and realism Stackhouse embraces seem to me to undermine the transformative power of the Spirit. I realize that sounds harsh, but that’s the way it seems. If i’m wrong, let me know, since I still have to read his book!
    Peace,
    mike

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Mike S. #20
    Mike,
    Stackhouse would definitely consider “Christian Realism” to be rooted in the life of Jesus but he would challenge (as would I) what appears to be an unstated assumption in how you’ve characterized being “rooted in the life of Jesus.” Namely the assumption that Jesus’ (and the early church’s) response to culture is normative for all times, places and cultures.
    Is the posture adopted by Jesus and the early church toward the Roman Empire the same posture we are to hold in modern Western democracies? Should the church’s response to culture in these modern western societies be the same as it was for the church in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s or in North Korea today? Why should we aboslutize Jesus’ posture toward First Century Roman culture as the response to all other cultures?

  • http://www.theo-blogy.blogspot.com Mike Swalm

    thanks michael. that’s a helpful reply. i do want to say that i was asking the genuine question without the unstated assumption you mentioned. i really just wanted to know :) thanks again. also, are you able to answer my other question…that is, would stackhouse have said that jesus was a pragmatist (realist)? while our social milieu is different, surely there are parallels.
    blessings,
    mike

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Michael (and Mike),
    This is why Stackhouse picks on the WWJD approach to the Christian life. Michael, your description of Stackhouse’s approach in par 2 is spot-on. That is the question he is asking in “who is Jesus for us today?”

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Mike S #22
    I don’t know that I’d be comfortable with describing Stackhouse’s approach as pragmatism. That said…
    Was Jesus a pragmatist? No. Was Jesus a wide-eyed idealist oblivious to cultural context? No. (ex. Did he call for an end to slavery?)

  • RJS

    Mike #20,
    I actually think that the pragmatism and realism Stackhouse embraces requires that we walk in the Spirit and have faith in the transformative power of the Spirit.
    Because there is no “moral codebook,” because the letters of Paul, Peter, and James are written in context to real churches in that time and place, because even the life of Jesus is recorded in a cultural context, because the ground is not only slippery but shifting under our feet, we have no choice but to rely on the Spirit.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #25 RJS
    I knew someone would go and drag the Holy Spirit into this. :) I think you are right on.

  • Paul Johnston

    Scot,
    How does Stackhouse interact with the Sermon on the Mount? His pragmatism seems to be different than Jesus’ push away from Moses’ accomodation due to the hardness of our hearts and toward purity of heart and action. Does Stackhouse see the SM as idealistic?
    Am I missing something?
    Thanks,
    Paul

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/07/08/is-the-bible-an-instruction-book/ Rebeccat

    Funny, just yesterday I wrote a blog post on the problem with viewing the bible as some sort of instruction manual and advocated viewing it as a story with many internal stories that we need to actively interact with rather than just receive.
    I think that I would disagree with Christian realism as described above because it still presupposes that there is a “right” response which in a pure, ideal world we would always aspire to. If I’m reading this properly, the argument seems to be that sometimes deviating from what is “right” is the best answer. However, I think that the idea of “right” and “wrong” as we usually frame it (ie that there are behaviors that are biblical, God approved or in accordance with the rules and others that are not) is a problem.
    There is much in scriptures, in the NT in particular which argues against the idea that God prefers us to stick to the rule book when ever possible. Jesus says to pray in a broom closet yet his prays in front of his followers. Paul doesn’t criticize those who eat meat sacrificed to idols or those who refuse. God asks Hosea to stay with and redeem a wife who has cuckold him although He has also offered many laws regarding such a situation which are not nearly so merciful.
    I guess what I am saying is that I certainly agree with the need to be more flexible in considering what the proper course of action is in the real world. However, I would go further to reject the underlying premise that there is some rule book or score card which would reveal right and wrong, but which is simply unrealistic for our messy world. I think that God is well aware of our messy world and is not interested in the score card or rule book in the way we generally presume. Not only that, but when we presume that there is a set of rules which as Christians we are obliged to follow except in exceptional situations, we close ourselves off to the sort of crazy, dangerous, illogical things which God will often ask of the person who follows Him. Think of Abraham leaving his home. If Abraham had insisted that devotion to family, property, place and obligation were the way of God and the only proper course of action for a God fearing man, it would have made even hearing, much less following God’s instructions well nigh impossible.
    I totally agree, however, with the idea that we need to rely on the Spirit on our slippery slopes. Even in reading scriptures, I think we need to constantly turn to God to ask, “what do you want me to understand or learn from this?” rather than “how can I apply this to my life?” It’s all about the heart, IMO. If our heart is right, if it is connected to and feeding from the Spirit, then the primitive calculus of “right” and “wrong” becomes less relevant. If our actions and attitudes flow out of the indwelling of God’s Spirit in us, then our actions will flow out of love, which is itself the most important rule, consideration and manifestation of God.
    Mankind prefers rules, even the rule that says sometimes rules must be broken to being pure of heart. You can master rules. But a pure heart, given over to God is a much more demanding thing. There are men with evil hearts who follow all the right rules and gain the approval of men. Then there are men with pure hearts who break the rules and scandalize men and women of good repute. If we want to imitate Jesus, we’d be best off doing the latter.

  • http://stackblog.wordpress.com John Stackhouse

    I have been following this discussion from the beginning, lurking and not writing in order to let the discussion play out among Scot and his wonderful friends on this blog. But now that he’s wrapping up this generous look at my book, perhaps I should make a comment or two.
    First, many, many thanks to Scot for attending to my book and for doing so with such an intelligent and charitable spirit–both crucial components in proper interpretation! He has heard me fairly and, inasmuch as this medium will allow, represented me well. I’d quibble with one or two points here and there, but generally I feel well done by. And that, as we all know, is sadly unusual.
    Second, many thanks to Michael Kruse for so often riding to my rescue! I worked very, very hard in this book to listen to various sides and to take into account possible criticisms, and I tried my best to be both nuanced and clear. Michael has saved me more than a few times from being misunderstood as oversimplifying this or ignoring that, and I’m very grateful to him.
    Third, thanks to all of the rest of you who have done me the honour of interacting with my ideas–and doing so with the same spirit of intelligence and charity with which Brother Scot has engaged them as well. I know my book will disappoint or annoy some people and I’m braced for their reaction elsewhere! But here in the JesusCreed community, I have felt we were in a truly Christian conversation, struggling together to understand each other and edify each other in our common cause: Loving God and loving our neighbours as Jesus calls us to do.
    The book is kinda big, but readers tell me it’s not overwhelming and they can get through it more easily than they thought they could. Oxford also priced it remarkably well (as Scot and other authors will appreciate!). So I’m glad my labour of love has gotten out there now, and you all have done a good work indeed in giving it this much attention.
    With affection and admiration, then, I remain,
    Your servant,
    John

  • RJS

    Michael (#26),
    I am thinking this through in light of several interactions I’ve had over the last year – and my post on Trinity from Keller’s Book ORF 15. Is the importance of the Trinity relationship – as in perichoresis and the analogy with dance? While perichoresis may describe Trinity – I am not sure that the internal relationship is the point as Keller seems to purport. But the Spirit is key – we walk in step with the Spirit, resting in the transformative power of the Spirit, in our place and time. I think that in overemphasis on ecclesial structure or sola scriptura or both we lose the Spirit.
    In light of Thielicke’s book and Scot’s advice (other post today) perhaps I should keep my current ramblings to myself – but…

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    RJS,
    I have appreciated and agree with your comments about walking in the Spirit, on the other thread and this one.
    I have come to believe that is at the heart of what it means to live as a Christian. It is the guiding light and the wind at the back for both Right and Left, for those in extreme situations such as abuse or addictions on the one hand and for those who live in more comfortable siutations on the other hand.

  • http://www.communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    The Spirit is the key, I would agree. But we can’t simply say that no commands were given, either by Jesus or the apostles. The letters have plenty of imperatives, so that even though we must be led by the Spirit, to live out this life in Jesus, we still need these words. The question becomes how do these relate to present day life, as has well been pointed out here. The letters where it talks about being completely humble and gentle, bearing with one another in love- while they have to be worked out in the Spirit, are pretty plain. But how about the SOM? These have to be worked out as well, and they do come with imperatival force or at least as exhortation.
    I’m sure the call here to be led by the Spirit does not leave the word behind. Just wondering to myself how this is worked out across cultures and times without losing the force with which the words in Scripture were originally given. And I wonder if really everything so recorded has to change as to where were at in the time and place. Only the Spirit, and together so endeavoring can help us in these matters, I suppose.

  • http://www.communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Not that we can be absolutely SURE, but yet that we’re gripped with a sense of call, that this is the way, walk in it.
    I’m not sure this really gets hold of that from my reading of it.

  • http://www.communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    maybe a sense that we can’t know for sure, but we keep on following. Yet to obey is a call ongoing for us in Jesus, surely (John 14).

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/07/08/is-the-bible-an-instruction-book/ Rebeccat

    Ted, IMO, the key is that we ask God what He wants us to do, understand or struggle with in a given bit of scripture. Not that we just leave it behind, wing it and call it being lead by the Spirit. Sometimes it may be that we just need to do what is written, but to approach scripture with the assumption that just doing what is written is always (or almost always) the point, closes us off to other possibilities which God has in mind. I think it is the difference between dealing with the Living Word and following a manual. Or dealing with the Living God vs adherence to an inactive, historical God. I just hate it when people feel that they must apologize or justify following God’s leading because in doing so they have violated some supposed rule. Scriptures are full of people doing God’s will by breaking the rules. Besides, all of the law is contained in “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” If that rule is broken, then a real right or wrong has been violated. If that rule is kept, then no rule has been broken, no matter what the presumed “right” or “wrong” thing to do is. And love comes from God, not from getting the rules down pat.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #29 John
    Thanks for your kind words. I’m encouraged that you feel I’ve accurately understood and responded to some of the main points. I feel like I’m in way over my head with some of this.
    Let me just say that this is one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. You’ve given words to thoughts I’ve been grappling with for years and I think you accomplished your mission of carefully delineating your perspective at critical points. Rarely have I read a book that brought so many fuzzy inklings of mine into such sharp focus. I think anyone who draws the conclusion that you’re advocating anything other than radical discipleship has not understood the book.
    I only read this book a couple of months ago. I expect go back through again in a few weeks. Thanks for this gift to body of Christ, and to me in particular.

  • Paul Johnston

    Rebeccat:
    It feels like the text will eventually be left behind and the emphasis will be placed totally on the inner guidance of the Spirit.
    This sounds like where Barth and Bonhoeffer ended up. The divine encounter, the individual call of God in my heart and mind defines what is good for the moment. (No slam on these two men; I like their work.)
    In what way does Scripture guide or control the direction of my obedience? It is very easy for people to apply God’s big story in contradictory ways. Even the love command needs specific actions tied to it, so that love is defined, given content. Ideas are defined when examples are given.
    Seems like the role of the church, the community, needs to be included in this discussion. There is strength in numbers, multiple people listening together to the Spirit’s voice in Scripture.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Rebecaat #28 and #35
    I’m with you that the Bible is not a rule book or instruction manual. However, love is action. If we are to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, then we must act. So which actions are loving and which are not in any given context? I’d suggest that it is those actions that create the greatest shalom and bring us closest to living as the Kingdom of God. That requires that we have some image as to what shalom is and what the Kingdom of God is. Where do we get that image? I think it comes in part from the rules we’ve been given and ethical teachings lile those in the Sermon on the Mount.
    No community can exist without developing norms of conduct. I see the New Testament as an authoritative testimony about how the First Century church sought to live, in their context, the image of the Kingdom of God they had been given. We have the same mission for our context. The rules and ethics taught in the Bible are highly instructive but not necessarily always directly transferable to our context.
    This takes me back to an earlier JC discussion we had about William Webb’s “Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic.” The ultimate ethical teachings are unchanging (ex. Love your neighbor as yourself.) Most penultimate ethical imperatives are pretty solid as well (ex. take care of the poor.) But once we get beyond that we get into far more contextual issues (ex. Help the poor by leaving the edge of the fields for gleaning or by helping them with job training and skills that will allow them to provide for themselves?) I think “the rules” matter greatly, just not always with direct application.

  • http://theupsidedownworld.wordpress.com/2008/07/08/is-the-bible-an-instruction-book/ Rebeccat

    Paul, I’m actually grossly undereducated on my theologians, so I’m not really familiar with the particulars of Barth and Bonhoeffer. However, personally, I can’t imagine leaving the scripture behind. Even if I were to stop reading it, it is “hidden in my heart” as the psalmist puts it. It gives me the language I express myself with, the words that provide shape to my thoughts and understanding, it is on my heart, my lips and my mind. Removing it would be very hard.
    However, this isn’t because I’ve devoted myself to memorizing it. Instead, I have tried to take the same approach the Jewish people have used in dealing with scriptures for ages: I’ve actively engaged with it. In Hebrew, the word we see as meditate is a very active process. Jewish meditation often means finding the conflicts and holding them together in your mind until some understanding comes. I would go so far as to say that in my experience the conflicts and paradoxes reveal more truth than almost anything else in scriptures. When you actively engage with scripture, rather than simply receive it and try to comport yourself to it, you must learn wisdom, intimacy with God, discernment and patience. It is the process of allowing God and the scripture to change you rather than trying to use scripture to change yourself.
    As for specifics, one of the big turning points in my faith walk was learning to trust God in me. Before I would agonize over what the “right” thing to do was. I would strain to hear God’s voice and sometimes make what in my heart I know was the wrong choice because I thought it was how God was directing me. However, at some point I decided to take the verses which spoke of the indwelling of the Spirit and “not I but Christ in me” seriously and stop trying to search and strain to “find” what God wanted me to do. Instead, I started to trust that what was in my heart had been transformed by God, that the new man was growing stronger all the time and that the Spirit was present there. It’s not at all some flaky “follow your heart” thing that teenaged girls like to hear. It’s much more a matter of trusting God than myself. If I am trustworthy, it is only because God is in me. I’m probably not explaining this well, but my point is that when we rely on God, the examples are not nearly as useful. I would actually say that the examples are more useful for bringing us closer to God and helping us to understand His ways than for telling us what to do.
    And if each of us do this, there will of course be conflicts. Some of those conflicts will be because some of us are wrong. More often, they will be because God is dealing with us according to our needs and His will for our particular lives rather than according to some super mold we will all fit into. However, if we really have been wrestling with scriptures for a while, we will inevitably develop enough perspective to realize that we don’t have all the answers, that God’s ways are too big and mysterious not to allow for differing perspectives on the same thing. And I think we’ll be less likely to let those differences divide us than we are when we approach the scriptures as a blueprint and then argue ferociously over how to read it.
    I agree about the role of church and community. However, I don’t have much wisdom or insight into how that could/should work. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to find a church where life was lived in anything resembling community. From my past experience, I would say that church and community works best by supporting, encouraging and loving us when we are unlovable. While we’re pretty good at being selfish, being selfish is not the same thing as viewing myself in a loving way. When we know that we are loved, it is much easier to receive correction, be vulnerable with each other and with God and be open to change. I would say that church, when working properly facilitates and supports our growth in relationship with God rather than provides direction.
    I’m not sure if this all makes sense, but make of it what you will!

  • http://www.communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Rebeccat,
    I’m in a short time frame here, but I get your point, I think. Thanks.
    I’m probably not reading all of this well, and am again, short on time. I am not sure I track well with all of this, or agree, really.

  • http://www.communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    I mean, it just seems to me that much of the punch of scripture, might be lost in this Christian realist shuffle, even though I think there’s something to what Stackhouse is saying.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Paul #37,
    Are you equating “inner guidance of the Spirit” with “keeping in step with the Spirit?”
    I think in places like Col 3, Gal 5, 1 Cor 12, Eph 4, etc. we see that Spiritual fruit includes of course love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, patience, etc. but also using your gifts in the body, being humble, putting others first, among other things – also includes putting away the old junk like sexual immorality, anger, bitterness, lying. Choosing to be gentle or forgiving or thankful is often contrary to our intial reaction. These involve attitudes of the heart but also lead to action.
    On the one hand, I know people who claim to be faithful to the text, yet are harsh with those who they feel are wrong. This, in fact, is disobedience to the text. I know others who have a very touchy-feely perception of some sort of inner guidance from the Spirit, but they spend very little time reflecting on their own or others’ lives and thinking about how to walk in the Spirit – meaning how to live day-to-day obeying the passages I mentioned above and others like them. My point is that “inner guidance” sounds pretty subjective to me, while “keeping in step with the Spirit” to me at least, describes an over-arching attitude and lifestyle.
    I am going long, but one more comment. If one lives this lifestyle, two things:
    1) Without the Spirit, one will fail. Many religions aspire to these virtues but it takes the Spirit’s help to truly do it.
    2) One will find that “against such things there is no law.” One’s life will not contradict God’s Word in the end.

  • http://communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    I don’t at all prefer rules over relationship (Rebeccat), and just am grappling with the dynamic in Jesus in this world, and how Scripture and commands in it, do fit. I’m of the persuasion that we live the Christian life as we proceed by faith and by the Spirit, that there must be a kind of spontaneity, ongiong in it. Not at all that it’s just keeping the “rules” or commands of Scripture before us.
    Much said here, and in the post I do appreciate and do track with. I just find it interesting that we in the new covenant still need Scripture, words written, and even commands given. Seems evident to me, and this all ends up being a part of this dynamic, I think.

  • Angie

    Matthew S. # 42,
    Do you think that a person who has been abused (human trafficking,rape, religious fundamentalism, etc.) should be told that they should “have a right attitude”? And if they don’t, that that proves that they are not “keeping in step with the Spirit” and are spritually immature? Is being mature something that is innately inhumane, meaning that issues of grief, anger, etc. are not allowed to be expressed? What about Jesus cleansing the Temple or the Cross, or Gethsemene? What about Job? What about the prophets? All of these people of God expressed great anguish, fear, unbelief, dismay, struggle, confusion, etc.. Job’s comforters were not confirmed by God as asessing the situation “right”…and how did these comforters comfort? theologizing, patronizing, and rebuking….corrective ministry according to the “mature”.

  • Terry Tiessen

    On this matter of discerning God’s moral will for us today, in the midst of the complexities of our lives, I have found very stimulating the work by Samuel Wells, “Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics” (Brazos, 2004). I learned a good deal about improvisation in drama from the work, but was also pushed to very helpful moral reflection. Wells argues that we do not have a detailed script for the act in which we now “play,” but Scripture gives us the script for the acts that preceded this one and for the final act that follows this one. He proposes that our task now, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to act in ways that are consistent with the play written by God for the acts prior to the one we now play, and with a sense of how our roles in this act move the play along to what we know to be its end.
    As my earlier comment indicated, I think that we have more specific instructions in the script for our roles in this act than Wells portrays, but I find the narrative approach that Wells lays out to be very fruitful. As many of the comments here have indicated, Scripture is not a rule book that tells us exactly what to do in every situation we might encounter. On the other hand, I’m always troubled by authors (and I’m not speaking of Wells here) who put narrative theology and propositional theology in opposition to one another. I don’t think that theology (including ethics) can be done without meaningful statements (propositions) but I do find biblical narrative very helpful as we formulate theological propositions and moral norms for our faith and practice today. This fosters the necessary epistemic humility of critical realism without leaving us in complete subjectivism or relativism.
    From what I’ve read to date in reviews etc. of Stackhouse’s book it strikes me as helpful in ways very similar to Wells’s work. Even with a sufficient Scripture and the daily guidance of the Holy Spirit, we have to do a good deal of improvisation.
    Cheers,
    Terry

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    #45 Terry
    Thanks for pointing out Wells’ book. Fascinating thesis. I’ve been to Amazon and ordered a used copy.

  • http://blog.billsamuel.net/ Bill Samuel

    I haven’t read the book, so I’m only responding to what Scot wrote about it and the comments in the thread.
    There seems to be an equating of idealism with following rules, which I don’t think follows. I think the real question is whether we live in this world by this world’s rules or seem to live in the kingdom of God here and now (or something in between). I think Christian realism tends to dismiss the idea of living in the kingdom of God here and now, but I believe that is absolutely central to Jesus’ message. Living that way means living in the presence, seeking guidance constantly, not reducing scripture to a set of rules and following those rules.
    The wheat and tares interpretation is summarized very briefly, so I don’t get a full picture of how Stackhouse gets there. But the bottom line seems to be in practice, whether or not that’s how it’s described, having the Christian sow both the wheat and the tares. That’s NOT the message of the parable. Rather it’s about dealing with the reality of someone else sowing tares in more than a knee jerk fashion.
    Traditionally Christian realism has been used as a way to justify Christian participation in mass slaughter (war), and I’m not sure to what degree Stackhouse does that, but I think that is fundamentally contrary to the radical call of Jesus in our lives.
    “We need to distinguish our work from God’s work.” Or are we rather to participate in God’s work?

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Hello Angie,
    I was thinking more of walking in the Spirit as being a corrective to the abuser than the victim when I wrote that. Take the example of the fundamentalist who exercises religious abuse but then hides behind truth claims. Is he or she really obeying God’s Word and walking in the Spirit? Or consider an addict who cries out for help. Exercising gratitude, forgiving others, etc. etc., in my opinion, will be a part of a Christian approach to recovery.
    Now, for the victim. First, I don’t think the Lord calls us to be passive about letting abuse continue. The OT prophets decried those who sat idly by while fatherless and widow were take advantage of. More could be said. Tragcally, we can’t always stop abuse. Having said that, I do think Jesus calls victims to forgive as he forgave. This is the miraculous power of the Spirit: with the same power that raised the dead, the Spirit can help a victim forgive an abuser. Miroslav Volf, in “The End of Memory” discusses forgiving his torturer. He pictures sharing in a banquet in heaven with his abusers. This is the miracle of new life. Anyone can love a friend. But who can love an enemy? That is walking in the Spirit. We absolutely cannot do it without the Spirit’s aid.
    (Again, I don’t agree with idly letting abuse continue -please don’t hear me excusing inaction in the face of abuse when one can reasonably do something about it.)

  • http://www.JesusCreed.org Scot McKnight

    Bill,
    Sorry to say this, but your opening sentence sets off alarms for me. I don’t think Stackhouse can be charged with a thing you say, nor do I think the response is what has been written by way of summary of Stackhouse. I don’t want Stackhouse to be misrepresented.
    1. Idealism is not his word; nor does he then equate idealism with rule keeping.
    2. Stackhouse is thoroughly a kingdom living theology.
    3. What you say about wheat and tares is not what Stackhouse says.
    I could say more.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Bill #47
    You said your comment was based on the comments you read in this thread. I’m curious about your response to my comment in #12. I think this at the core of Stackhouse’s Christian realism. I don’t see how you get from the characterization I wrote there to the critique you wrote in #47. Can you help me?

  • http://blog.billsamuel.net/ Bill Samuel

    I was adding in what I know of the concept of Christian realism from other sources. It may be that Stackhouse is using the term differently. But your comment highlighted his contrast of rule-based living as the alternative. I agree that simply following a set of rules is not what we are called to. What worries me is that historically Christian realism has proposed as the alternative the doing of evil, justifying it on the basis of living in a fallen world. There seems to be a hint of that in the quote.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Bill #51
    Fair enough. Here my thoughts. You wrote in #47:
    “I think the real question is whether we live in this world by this world’s rules or seem to live in the kingdom of God here and now…”
    But take the classic example of Bonhoeffer the pacifist wrestling with whether or not to participate in the assassination of Hitler. I think what Stackhouse is asking is, how does telling Bonhoeffer to live in the kingdom of God here and now help Bonhoeffer resolve his dilemma? That is precisely what he desperately wants to do but can’t discern how.
    Stackhouse wrote in the quote in the post, “Most of the time, then, we know what to do and must simply do it.” I don’t think Stackhouse would disagree for one minute that we as broken eikons might rationalize our behaviors by claiming we are in a quandary. But that being true doesn’t negate the reality that we do indeed live in legitimate quandaries. We do our best and we know we fail. Grace covers us.
    I suspect your “rules” observations come from the “rule book” analogy Stackhouse used in the quote I gave. One form of “rule book” thinking is the fundamentalist notion of just follow the “plain teaching” of Jesus. But there are other versions like the liberationist version that absolutizes preferences for the poor and against the powerful. Whether fundamentalism or liberationist theology, these constructs become the neat and tidy umpires in our quest for transforming culture. They give us safety and certainty in knowing we are living out the kingdom of God in the here and now. Some rule book versions may be very culturally accommodating and others utterly counter-cultural but they all boil down to escaping the tension between seeking the greatest shalom possible in a world that can’t fully be realized shalom for a world of tidy constructs (i.e. “rule book”).
    What I find interesting is that both theologically conservative “plain teaching of scripture” folks and Hauerwasian Emergent folks have the same reaction to Stackhouse’s arguments: He refuses to be a fully committed true exemplar of “the Kingdom of God.” It is the double pinch I’ve felt most of my adult life and it is part of what I so readily identify with this book.

  • http://theo-blogy.blogspot.com Mike Swalm

    He refuses to be a fully committed true exemplar of “the Kingdom of God.”
    yep, that was it. not sure if that makes me a theological conservative or an officer in the hauerwasian/emergent mafia…maybe a little of both :)
    thanks for you kind interaction, all. it’s been a nice and challenging discussion. I imagine these ideas will continue to percolate and would love to see a future discussion occur.
    blessings,
    mike

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    The thing I find interesting about Stackhouse is his framing of the issues in terms fully embracing two realities of a paradox: Create greatest shalom possible in a world where full shalom is not possible. This is not about finding some golden mean between the two but embracing both realities fully. Christian discipleship becomes a highly energized and relational, but imprecise, venture. This strikes me as very postmodern, or maybe pre-modern. Yet it is fascinating to me that most of the Emergent people I know who are aware of this book respond negatively to Stackhouse in almost knee-jerk fashion.

  • Ian

    Mike #52
    I think I would have to agree with that assessment. Perhaps it’s my Anabaptist background peeking out, but very often we see This or That option, and the Holy spirit wants us to take THAT ONE OVER THERE, which we haven’t even looked at because it requires tremendous personal sacrifice.
    God does not guarantee Christians an easy life; if our options do not include the possibility of our suffering to give others the chance to live, perhaps we’re not looking far enough at the options.
    Too many people look at TWO options – the ones the world gives us – either do evil or do MORE evil, and they choose the lesser of the two, not realizing that there’s a third option: do good.
    Maybe there isn’t a third option that doesn’t involve suffering, but is there anything wrong with suffering?
    What I infer from the quote given by Scot is that Stackhouse is arguing that compromising with evil is the best we can do.
    And that rankles.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Helpful thoughts, Ian. Here are my thoughts.
    To say “do good” simply begs the question. Good according to what? According to a rule book? Which one? According to the greatest shalom (ex. Kill Hitler or not?)? How do I know which choice brings the greatest shalom?
    The implication I hear you making is that someone like myself is not choosing to do “the good” because I want to avoid suffering. To me the position you describe is subject to the same criticism. Stackhouse wrote in the quote I gave in #12:
    “We are responsible to care for the earth and to love our neighbor as best we can, and if we think we can do that better in an unusual way that leaves us vulnerable to second-guessing and maybe even to error, we nonetheless should do it. For what is the alternative? It is to shrink back from this possibility and settle for the safety of the rule book, the comfort of the clear but circumscribed conscience.”
    It seems to me that the position you’re describing is avoiding the existential suffering of unclear conscience and the potential grief from making errors in favor of a neat and tidy system of some sort.
    I’m not trying to be snarky here, but rather trying to contrast what I see as the difference.

  • http://www.theo-blogy.blogspot.com Mike Swalm

    Michael,
    are we not doing a similar thing with “greatest shalom”? Greatest shalom according to whom? To scripture? To us? are we then left with the necessarily nebulous “we’ll just have to figure out what greatest shalom looks like on our own or with the help of the spirit”?
    I heartily agree that we suffer in our decision making. I do not believe that the bible is simply a rulebook. But it is something, is it not, if we are to affirm that it is authoritative in our lives? In the life of the church? What function then does the scripture serve?
    I also am not trying to be snarky, but trying to understand the position you’re taking appropriately. thanks again for great conversation.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Mike #57
    Yes there is a challenge in discerning greatest shalom. There is no escaping the inherent nebulousness we live in. Our vision of the Kingdom of God is hardly opaque but neither is it transparent. It is translucent. (“We see through a glass darkly but then face to face.”)
    Enlightenment and Modernist Christianity has largely been an exercise in idolizing either orthodoxy or orthopraxy. Some reason their way to the perfect system of doctrine that handles all eventualities in an effort to transcend the nebulousness. Others reason their way to a code of behavior or pattern of living that will shield them from the uncertainty (either in some form of accommodation or counter-culturalism.)
    This is where Stackhouse’s notion of the “tetralectic” comes in. In Scot’s Christian Realism #5, he wrote:
    “…there are four means to understanding how to make moral decisions in Christian realism: scripture, tradition, reason and experience. He [Stackhouse] calls this — not the Wesleyan quadrilateral but — “a Protestant (Christian) tetralectic.” Besides being a bad word and hard to say and all, his idea is exceptionally important:
    If Scripture is primary, it is not that simple. His point: as a “dialectic” is the interaction of two things, so a “tetralectic” is the ongoing, mutual interaction of four things. And that is exactly how it works out, friends. “Our reading of Scripture is always in a tetralectic, a four-way conversation among these four resources” (173). Think about this very long and a few things happen, not the least of which is a little humility about our claims. And this tetralectic involves not just Scripture but our “interpretations” of Scripture (174).”
    My point is that scripture is primary. But scripture is not an instruction manual. It is a collection of authoritative witnesses to the in-breaking of God into human affairs involving specific people in specific cultural-historical realities. We can’t lift the Hebrew and Greek words off the pages and directly apply them in out 21st Century context. Before application comes interpretation. Biblical interpretation is an exercise in discovering what the original author intends for his readers or the original speaker for his listeners. Only then can we begin to move to a tetralectic application, guided by the Spirit.
    So yes, scripture is paramount. I’m suggesting that admonitions to follow the “plain teaching” of scripture, or to just do what is “good,” or to live according these counter-cultural anti-Empire Emergent values, are abstractions from scripture. We can’t function in life and community without a measure of this abstraction but we dare not confuse our abstractions with the scripture.
    Again, we’re called to faithfulness (not flawless discernment) in the midst of paradox, trusting God for our justification and the final results.

  • http://blog.billsamuel.net/ Bill Samuel

    By “tetralectic application, guided by the Spirit” what do you mean? My own understanding is that the Spirit – direct revelation – is primary, and the four factors of the tetralectic assist us in correctly discerning the Spirit. I would not state scripture as paramount because, as the early Quakers said, “they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself.” (Robert Barclay, Apology for the True Christian Divinity, Proposition 3, Concerning the Scriptures)
    I’m not clear how you are viewing direct revelation. And how does Stackhouse treat it?
    I can’t reconcile an awareness of the Spirit of Christ, alive as our present Inward Teacher, with a holding of scripture as primary. My biggest quarrel with evangelicalism is that it is book-centered, whereas I think we should be Christ-centered.

  • Richard

    To some degree most of us at one time or another want to take the credit for salvation by what we know rather than Who we know. We still think that it’s a 50 – 50 hold even if only one of us is God. The good news will always be that Jesus Christ wilingly died for us so that we could live, not neccesaraly read, write or understand. That’s what makes us ALL so wonderfully special.
    Salvation for me, came even before I ever opened the bible and when I did, I realized that I had a right to say so. Thank you sweet Jesus.
    Bravo Rebecatt, is that ointment at His feet that I smell?

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Bill #59
    Stackhouse writes concerning the elements of the tetralectic: “In, with, and under these resources and the Christians who investigate them works the Holy Spirit of God.” (178) So God is at work in all of this and all of us.
    Scripture is “paramount” may not be the best adjective. My basic point is that it is uniquely authoritative as an authentic witness to the mighty deeds of God and his vision for, and call to, the world. Stackhouse acknowledges scripture as “…the Word of God written – the book, so to say, that God prompted and that God wants us to have with his authority.” (171)
    Unlike tradition, experience, or reason, which have evolving qualities to them, I think scripture is more of a fixed beacon. I don’t think I can go all the way with you to Barclay but I understand the sentiment as a response to bibliolatry . Scripture is one fountain but it is a uniquely authoritative fountain. It is intended to read us more than us reading it. Through the Spirit, it is a corrective anchor, a transforming teacher, and a provider of hope in a way no other fountain can be.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X