a journal of christian thought
Issue 01 / Spring 14 ----The Love of Evangelism vs. The Evangelism of Love St. Olaf College: Lutheran Identity in an Age of Pluralism Costly Christianity
A L E T T E R F R O M T H E E D I TO R S :
ollege is a time of doubt and transition for many. Decisions about what we believe are among the most difficult and important life decisions, yet tragically the least discussed in the modern academy. No generation moves beyond such questions, but ironically we often make decisions even by ignoring them. Modern society provides a fallback answer to such questions by portraying religion as a construct for those who fear dealing with the real issues of the world or who are too unintelligent to grasp reality. But in fact, our theology profoundly affects the way we lead our lives. Religion at its core is about a way of being and acting in the world. Christianity in particular is familiar to St. Olaf students, whether we hail from Lutheran, Catholic, or atheist roots, or upbringings that escape simple categorization; we’ve all read Christian scriptures and studied theology as coursework. Despite these encounters, a gap often exists between our personal experience of religion and our theological coursework. We miss the unique opportunity for dialogue provided by a community full of religiously literate individuals. The St. Olaf Avodah is an opportunity to tackle questions and express ideas which otherwise might be downplayed or unheard. We at Avodah are passionate about Christ and the Christian faith. We want to read scripture critically, learning to understand it as both complex literature and the word of God. We are intrigued by the development of our religion—the history of the body to which we belong, the doctrines we follow, and the stories of influential early followers. Avodah seeks to be a constructive resource that demonstrates the intellectual integrity of the Christian faith. As an academic journal, we hope to provide a forum that promotes the gathering of wisdom before opinions. In this issue, you’ll find a collection of articles, essays, poems, and artwork. Dr. Darrell Jodock ‘62 explores the capacity of St. Olaf as a college of the church to support interreligious diversity and dialogue. Paul Escher ‘16 defends Christianity in the face of contemporary criticism that it is a mere consoling crutch. Drew Voigt ‘14 relates the incarnation to mathematical concepts of infinity, and the prints of Alli Livingston ‘16 invite you to ponder the phrase “intimate immensity” in their starry skies. We hope that this first issue of Avodah generates ideas and questions about the Christian faith, and we urge you to dig deeper with us and your friends as you read.
“Avodah” is a Hebrew word that means both work and worship. It signifies our purpose and indicates our core beliefs: first, that our work here at St. Olaf, our academic study, is in dialogue with our understanding of God and our worship; second, that our faith in Christ directs our ultimate vocational path in life and calls us to love and serve the neighbor.
Nicole Newell ‘15, Editor-in-Chief Kyle Gibbs ‘14, Managing Editor Amy Mihelich ‘16 Anna Priore ‘16 Robert Lehmann ‘15 Chance Bonar ‘15 Maddie Osgood ‘16 Andrew Fuglestad ‘14
Design and Layout Maddie Osgood ‘16
Business Manaager Ellie Anderson ‘15
Kyle Obermann ‘14
CO N T E N TS . . .
The Love of Evangelism vs. The Evangelism of Love
07 10 12
Cantor’s Theorem and Jesu
L. DeAne Lagerquist, Professor and Chair, Department of Religion Jason Ripley, Assistant Professor, Department of Religion
Special thanks to:
St. Olaf Student Organizations Committee St. Olaf College Student Congregation The Augustine Collective stolafavodah.wordpress.com direct letters to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Drew Voigt ‘14
Intimate Immensity Alli Livingston ‘16
St. Olaf College: Lutheran Identity in an Age of Pluralism
Darrell Jodock ‘62, Ph.D., Martin E. Marty Regents Chair in Religion and the Academy
Chance Bonar ‘15 Drew Voigt ‘14 Alli Livingston ‘16 Darrell Jodock ‘62 Stephen Lee ‘14 Paul Escher ‘16 Jennifer Sanders ‘13 Noah Sanders ‘13
Chance Bonar ‘15
29 32 34
Natalie Hofmeister ‘13
The Visible and Invisible Church Stephen Lee ‘14
Paul Escher ‘16
The Body in Foreclosure Poetry by Jennifer Sanders ‘13
“Passover” and “Transfiguration” Noah Sanders ‘13
The Love of Evangelism vs.
The evangelism of love By Chance Bonar
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ost Christians and church-goers, and indeed many non-Christians, have experienced the effects of evangelism and heard some form of the Great Commission from Matthew 28:16-20. Normative Christianity receives this understanding of the gospel, or the good news of Christ, from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion, literally “good news, good report”). Evangelism lives vividly in most modern churches, which seek to send out their members into the world and save the souls of the lost and poor in the world. Although many Christians have a deep-rooted passion for evangelism and soul-saving for Christ, the evangelical aspect can sometime overrule and diminish the importance of love and discipleship on which it was founded. I write this from my experiences with some fellow Christians, who wholeheartedly intend on preaching the Word of God, but who fail to show interest in me (or others) as a person worth befriending. Christians can lose focus on expressing Christian love when evangelizing, leading many to misunderstand and reject evangelism as a whole. The push for evangelism within the Church can create a gap between Christian truth and Christian love, which can diminish the importance and necessity of both aspects.
Christians sometimes seem to evangelize for the Great Commission because it reveals the main goal of sake of quantity over quality, not truly getting to know the calling and three main ways in which it is attained. brothers and sisters in Christ as brothers and sisters. But Christians must recognize that discipleship “does Understanding the purpose of evangelism within the not mean merely to add new church members into a modern Christian church is imperative for Christians congregation, nor does it refer to expanding the church to reach out to fellow humans numerically.”5 To “make disciples” Understanding the purpose in meaningful, connected ways. of others demands more than just We should consider the Great of evangelism within the proclaiming the Gospel, but develCommission and evangelical oping relationships with potential modern Christian church is movements within the church disciples. Just as Jesus was so deepin a holistic sense of disciple- imperative for Christians to ly involved with his own disciples, ship and love. By focusing on Christians are to truly befriend reach out to fellow humans in the purpose of Great Commispotential disciples and to give from sion (making disciples), Paul’s meaningful, connected ways. their own possessions for their imagery of the body of Christ, sake. and Paul’s approach to love, we can begin to understand In addition, the disciple is “not above the teacher,”6 how evangelism fits into the larger context of the New but instead works and experiences alongside the teachTestament. er, since “it is enough for students to be like their teachers.”7 Matthew’s Great Commission places Jesus above Matthew’s Holistic Commission of Discipleship his disciples and reminds us that Jesus is the teacher of Christians look to the Great Commision in Matall Christians and that disciples are imperfect followers. thew 28 as the premise for Christian evanglism, along The centrality of Christ as heading all disciples clears up 1 with other gospel accounts of Jesus’ final commission issues of proselytizing or forcing the Gospel when it is and the Book of Act’s description of Jesus’ final words.2 rejected, as is expected with any message of “truth” or The passage begins with the eleven disciples going to a “love” expressed to new people. Becoming a disciple, in mountain in Galilee, worshipping and some doubting any case, is an active choice and must be treated as such the risen Jesus. At this point, Jesus says to them: within the Church. Loving and treating those we evangelize to as equal disciples of the same teacher avoids “All authority in heaven and upon earth was given to Me. issues of subordination and rejection. Along with this, Going, therefore, make disciples of all the nations, baptizthe call to “make disciples” should not be read as making them in the name of the Father and the Son and the ing disciples for ourselves or for the church, but as makHoly Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have given as ing fellow disciples for Christ. The church as a whole instruction to you. And behold, I am with you all the days acts as a disciple to Christ, just as does each individual until the completion of the age. Amen.”3 member in the Church. Because Matthew portrays Jesus as “giving/leavIn the opening words of the commission, Mating instruction” to his disciples (ἐντέλλω, entello), Jesus thew emphasizes the authority of Jesus such that the might not have intended “the disciples to teach the prefocus “is not on the ‘commissioned’ but on the one who cise words He taught them, but that they should use discommissions.”4 Even before establishing the role of Jecernment in interpreting what and how to teach.”8 This sus’ disciples, Matthew shows that Jesus is the center would require a bit of experimenting and historical recof any evangelical authority. This focus on the Messiah ollection for the disciples of Jesus in order to teach the Himself should relieve some pressure from the modern overall message of Jesus’ life. His first disciples needed church, as God does not throw this commission on His to “make appropriate judgments as to how some of His people and then abandon them. Matthew declares the commandments fit new circumstances such as going to primacy of Jesus in the evangelical movement, indicatall nations rather than just to the lost sheep of the house ing that evangelism should mimic His life and example. of Israel.”9 Jesus Himself never actually went out into The centrality and authority of Jesus in the Great Comall nations teaching and baptizing; although He taught mission indicates that His authority is the ground on outside of the Temple and synagogues, He did not leave which Christians evangelize. His homeland. To know how to act and preach in other Jesus then calls His disciples to “make disciples” contexts, the early disciples needed to understand the (μαθητεύσατε, matheteusate) themselves, by “going,” broader applications and example of Jesus’ teachings “baptizing,” and “teaching.” This is central to Matthew’s and commandments, which were given in a primari-
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ly Jewish context. Evangelists today must examine the tive within the community. contextual purpose of Jesus’ teachings and how His In the original Greek text, Matthew tells us that Jeteachings can be applied to their distinct situations. sus desires His disciples to make disciples of the nations In relation to discipleship, teaching stands out (ἕθνη, ethne) and specifically to baptize and teach them as part of the continuous process of disciple-making. (αὐτοὺς, hautous). This could be interpreted to mean As college students that the disciples are know, knowledge is For a modern approach to evangelism, to baptize and teach not learned instantly Paul’s acceptance of diverse cultural whole nations. But but requires repeated because “nations” is teaching and experi- backgrounds allows for deeper connec- a neuter noun and ence. Jesus’s teaching tions and dialogue between Christians “them” is mascustyle appears to be the two nouns and non-Christians alike, as each culture line, informal and perrefer to somewhat sonal, grounded in brings a different emphasis to the broad different things. The love. He is concerned understanding of God in the world’s history. disciples are to love directly with those and teach those they around Him. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is porencounter rather than to preach to the nations in an trayed teaching all those who seek to learn from Him, abstract way. Thus, the Great Commission commands neither limiting His message to the poor alone nor exdisciples to baptize and teach individuals who seek uncluding the Pharisees.10 Jesus does not force people to derstanding of Jesus’ message. listen to His message, but rather answers the questions of those who are eager and willing to discuss with him. Paul’s Diverse Unity of the Body of Christ He allows those who listen to choose for themselves if To understand how early Christians understood they will be taught by him, as “many of his disciples the Great Commission in terms of holistic discipleship, turned back and no longer followed him” after difficult we can look at how the apostle Paul advocates disciteachings.11 pleship and genuine care in his epistles. Paul’s analoAs important and foundational as Scripture is to gy of Christians living and working as many parts of the knowledge of the Judeo-Christian tradition, Jeone body brings to light the communal aspect of discisus is often depicted in the Gospels not only reading ple-making. The apostle Paul gives us some of the earand teaching directly from the law, but also living and liest explanations of how Christians should approach speaking with those He taught. When Jesus eats at the other people within and outside of the Church. house of Zacchaeus, showing such humble compassion Unlike the later emergence of Orthodox and Cathto the tax collector, He makes a profound impact on olic thought, the early Church was not fully separated the man. Because of Jesus’ choice to eat with a sinner, from its Jewish heritage. Paul faced the challenge of Zacchaeus decides to give half of his possessions to the encouraging unity despite the expanding and increaspoor and repay all of his debts.12 The tax collector was ingly Gentile Church. He gave communities specific brought into salvation not from any direct message or instructions to encourage and preserve both unity and teaching from Jesus, but from practical love. To Jesus diversity, advising that the Church accept the different and His disciples, this overflowing of love encompassed cultural customs of its members “without quarreling all of the Law and Prophets within itself and set the over disputable matters,” such as differences of meat stage for a holistic approach to evangelism. eating.15 Paul’s overall approach to diversity allows the Because of the priority of love and relationship retention of such customs so long as they are intenin the message of Jesus, the “Great Commission” must tionally God-centered by Christians. As Gordon Zerbe be interpreted alongside the “Great Commandment.” writes, “Paul is not interested in particular boundary Making disciples necessitates deep involvement in othdefinitions as much as in fundamental loyalty to the ers’ lives, because teaching a message of hope and reMessiah.”14 This acceptance of diverse cultural backdemption requires intimate understanding of potential grounds encourages a kind of evangelism that fosters disciples. If Christians are to evangelize to others, “then deep connections and dialogue between Christians and we [Christians] should be concerned for their total welnon-Christians alike, as each person brings a different fare, including body, soul, and... community.”13 Acting emphasis to the broad understanding of God in the through this holistic evangelism does much more than world’s history. solely preach; it allows the Gospels to be visible and acPaul uses the Greek word ὁμόνοια (homonoia) to
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express the overarching goal of unity for Church followtianity that all testimony and community crumbles ers, whom he calls collectively the body of Christ. In its without it. As Paul says, “if I have all faith, so as to remost literal sense, ὁμόνοια means “being of one mind move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”22 together” and is often understood in terms of unity and The centrality of love in Pauline theology reflects Jesus’ reconciliation. Kathryn Reinhard explains that “Homoclaim that love of God and neighbor is the greatest comnoia, or concord, speeches, the most famous of which mandment.23 Both Jesus and Paul understand love and was the fable of Menenius Agrippa, often described the kindness to others from a holistic perspective. Matthew polis or a social group as an interdependent body.”16 But Elliott argues that love must have an emotional core Paul’s use of ὁμόνοια differs from most ancient uses. He within Christian thought and practice, and that love’s does not use it to preserve the status quo or a hierarchy emotion is what bears true relationship and genuine of interdependence. In fact, Paul challenges the “given” action. Christian love is not an unemotional, obligatoroles of status and honor in first-century Romanized ry commandment; “rather, love flows out of our beliefs, society, such as “sexual differentiation, genealogical difthinking, and values, out of the totality of who we are ference [Jew/Gentile], and legal status,” by proclaiming becoming in Christ.”24 Christian evangelism should rethat each role within the Church is unique and equally flect these tenets and view love as emotionally driven, important.17 Ironically, Paul uses upper-class ideolomaturing in community with the body of believers and gy against itself, claiming that “those members of the expressed through everyday action. body that we think less honorable we clothe with greatUnderstanding love within this holistic context er honor.”18 The analogy of the body of Christ reminds also clears up misconceptions about the purpose of the modern church of the importance of relationship, love in evangelism. Many non-Christians perceive that community, and interdependence in the work of evanevangelist Christians use them as objects on a checkgelism; each Christian is called to his or her own role, list, saving their souls and checking them off. Elliott reand all roles are valued. The Church is not the sum of minds us that “people know if they are really loved as individuals sent out on their own, but a collective group opposed to being nothing more than a ministry project with differing abilities and gifts to share. or evangelism target.”25 For the sake of evangelism, it This diverse unity in the early Church, described must be stressed that “what I show to the neighbor by by Paul as one body with many different parts, could way of goodness, compassion, and mercy, is not someonly be sustained through both truth and love. When thing that I do for God but what I actually do for the writing to the Ephesians, Paul sets “speaking the truth neighbor.”26 The emotional core of love requires Chrisin love”19 as a prerequisite in tians to genuinely care for order to grow into maturity Elliott reminds us that “people know and foster relationship with under the head of Christ; he if they are really loved as opposed to their neighbors, regardless also says that “as each part is of whether or not neighbors working properly, [it] pro- being nothing more than a minis- convert. Christian love acmotes the body’s growth in try project or evangelism target.”25 knowledges the risk that the building itself up in love.”20 Gospel and its community The modern Church, just as the early Church, must acwill be rejected, but the risk is taken in order to deeply knowledge and commit to the foundational importance connect and share experiences with others. Saint Auof love behind all of the Church’s actions. F.W. Dillisgustine gives evidence to genuine kindness affecting his tone points out that this internal growth and knowlearly understanding of Christianity when he claims, “I edge overrules other outreaches of the church, as began to like him [Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan], at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had ab“there is little reference in these Epistles [Ephesians and Cosolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human lossians] to the active ministry or witness of the Church. being who was kind to me.”27 Though people may hold The main stress is upon the Church receiving the Spirit, redifferent beliefs, love nonetheless provides a basis for ceiving the fullness of God through Christ, growing into a friendship and discussion. holy temple, growing up into Christ in all things.”21 If the Great Commission and evangelism are understood as personal and holistic as I have explained Paul urges internal love and evident cohesion within above, the Gospel can be expressed in everyday life the diverse Church, and stresses that love is a gift for through love and constructive teaching. Just as Paul beeach member of the body of Christ. lieved that each part of the body had its purpose in the This pursuit of love is so foundational to Chrisfunction of the whole body, so too does each Christian
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The effects of evangelism expand past soul-saving for an eternal future in heaven, and bring people into worthwhile relationship on earth, in the here-and-now. have an important but different role in evangelizing and supporting the community as a whole.28 Some Christians find their niche in mission trips to other countries, while others express the Gospel through more local actions or personal encounters. Whatever one’s way, sharing the Gospel message of hope and love must be seen holistically as loving and serving the neighbor. This kind of disciple-making can break the shallow surface level of much modern Christian evangelism and express a love much deeper and stronger. Two of the most common ways we are able to express such love to one another are through the sharing of our time and resources. With time, we are able to connect and build relationships with others, encountering God together and seeing creation through another person’s perspective. With resources, we are able to build up one another through financial support or gifts in order to show care and reveal the type of world for which we hope. These two ways of expressing love are not mutually exclusive, but interweave and show our need for both spiritual and physical support as humans. God has given us possibilities to give our time and resources to those who are truly in need of our help and love. If we treat love as a spiritual gift and foundation for all aspects of Christian life,29 then it must also be the basis of the Great Commission and of evangelism. Matthew’s Jesus does not ask for anything more or less than following His own teaching style and expressing His loving and personal message. The effects of evangelism expand past soul-saving for an eternal future in heaven, and bring people into worthwhile relationship on earth, in the here-and-now. Chance Bonar ‘15 is from Farmington, MN. He studies religion, classics, and ancient history and also edits for Res Antiqua, an undergraduate ancient studies journal.
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Mark 16:12-18, Luke 24:44-49, John 20:21-23. Acts 1:6-9. 3 Matthew 28:18-20 (Translation mine, from the original Greek). 4 Robert Newton, “The Real Who of Great Commission in Matthew 28,” Missio Apostolica (May 1996): 45. 5 Paul Hertig, “The Great Commission Revisited: The Role of God’s Reign in Disciple Making,” Missiology (July 2001): 347. 6 Matt. 10:24. 7 Matt. 10:25. 8 Robert L. Thomas, “The Great Commission: What To Teach,” Master’s Seminary Journal (Spring 2010): 8. 9 Thomas, “What To Teach,” 8. 10 Mark 2:13-17; John 3:1-15. 11 John 6:66. 12 Luke 19:8. 13 Hertig, “The Great Commission Revisited,” 348. 14 Gordon Zerbe, “The one and the many, the part and the all: unity and diversity in the Messiah’s body politic,” Vision 11, no. 1 (March 1, 2010): 24. 15 Romans 14, quotation from 14:1. 16 Kathryn L. Reinhard, “Conscience, interdependence, and embodied difference: what Paul’s ecclesial principles can offer the contemporary church,” Anglican Theological Review 94, no. 3 (June 1, 2012): 413. 17 Gordon. “The one and the many, the part and the all,” 26. 18 1 Cor. 12:23. 19 Eph. 4:15. 20 Eph. 4:16. 21 F.W. Dillistone, “How is the church Christ’s body?: a New Testament study,” Theology Today 2, no. 1 (April 1, 1945): 65. 22 1 Cor. 13:2. 23 Matt. 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28. 24 Matthew A Elliott, “The emotional core of love: the centrality of emotion in Christian psychology and ethics,” Journal Of Psychology And Christianity 31, no. 2 (June 1, 2012): 111. 25 Elliott, “The emotional core of love,” 113. 26 Josef Ernst, Das Evangelium nach Markus (Regensburg, Germany: Fredrich Pustet, 1981), 357. 27 Augustine, Confessions, 5.13. 28 1 Cor. 12:12-31. 29 1 Cor. 13:1-3. 1 2
Cantor’s Theorem and Jesu:
How Mathematical Notions of Infinity Contribute to the Understanding of Jesus by Drew Voight
ow that you have started reading this journal, I may have imprisoned your attention for an infinite amount of time. Let me prove this to you. As you turn this page in two minutes, you will only have half of my argument left to ponder. One minute later, you will have gazed at half of the remaining words, leaving one-quarter of the material unread. Thirty seconds more, and only one-eighth of the words will be unfamiliar to your eyes. This process will continue indefinitely, and very quickly you will merely need to read 1/16th, 1/32nd, and 1/64th of the words within these pages before you can continue on with your life. Nevertheless, you will always take some amount of time to finish the half of the article that remains unread. You will require milliseconds to read half of the final word, microseconds to read the quarter of the word remaining, and femtoseconds to read the eighth remaining. There will always be an infinitesimal part of the word yet to be perceived by your eye that will take infinitely long to finish. Such paradoxes, authored by the Greek philosopher Zeno, baffled several of the most celebrated thinkers of the ancient world. Left frustrated, mathe-
maticians and philosophers alike set to disprove Zeno’s arguments, and the formalized study of infinity was born in the 5th century B.C. Although the logic behind Zeno’s paradoxes was disproven with the foundation of calculus in the 14th century, the concept of infinity became the subject of significant scholarship. In fact, early church writers attributed the notion of infinity to God, which became “a cornerstone in Christian Theology.”2 Yet in 1891, a German Lutheran by the name of Georg Cantor radically transformed the world’s understanding of infinity in a simple yet elegant proof. Cantor verified that there are multiple levels of infinity In his proof, Cantor discovered the first of the transfinite numbers. Such sequences of numbers, although indisputably infinite, are less in magnitude than an alternate form of infinity, absolute infinity. Theologians and mathematicians alike were outraged, claiming that Cantor’s ideas were beyond blasphemous. In fact, the Church argued that Cantor supported pantheism, claiming his proof implied that “layers of infinity” could be nestled within the world.3 Yet Cantor defended himself by reserving the notion of absolute infinity (represented by Ω) for God alone, 4 while arguing that
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“the transfinite numbers are eternally existing realities in the mind of God.”5 In the following two hundred years since this proof, numerous books, journals, and articles have been published attempting to rationalize how God relates to transfinite and infinite numbers. However, no such scholarship has theorized where Jesus belongs in regards to the infinite. Yet, analysis of Cantor’s Theorem provides a sophisticated metaphor for understanding a fundamental question in Christology: how can Jesus be fully human yet completely divine? Hence, I will outline the remainder of this argument as any mathematician would in the form of a proof. Proof: Part 1 – The Incarnation and Divinity The opening line of the Nicene Creed unequivocally emphasizes that Jesus is “begotten, not made, being of one substance with the father.” Central to the Creed is the claim that Jesus is a distinct person from the God the Father, the first person of the trinity. Yet the question must be asked, “how is it possible for God to become incarnate in a human being without sacrificing divinity?” Although such a manifestation of divinity in human form appears to be illogical, certain properties of transfinite sequences analogously support such a claim. Imagine that all of the numbers in the real number system R (which consists of all numbers that can be written in a decimal form) are placed in a giant cauldron. Next, we seek to “beget” Jesus from God by simply removing the transfinite sequence of natural numbers (N=1.0, 2.0, 3.0,…) from the mixture. Jesus, akin to N, is unmistakably infinite (and thus divine). Likewise, although we have removed an infinite amount of numbers from the mixture, all of the non-integer numbers remain in the cauldron, so God himself remains infinite (and divine) as well. Yet this appears to be a contradiction. How can ∞ - ∞ = ∞ ? Such a statement can only be understood in terms of Cantor’s transfinite numbers. In order for both God and Jesus to be fully divine (infinite) after the incarnation, it is essential for God to exist as a different transfinite order than Jesus. Mathematically, this is only plausible way for God to maintain divinity while manifesting in the distinct yet divine human form of Jesus. Although God the Father and Jesus certainly exist as different transfinite orders, this in no way implies that the Son is inferior to the Father. In fact, the mutual infiniteness unifies Jesus with God the Father, allowing both to exist as fully divine entities. Yet though they are united, their unique transfinity allows God the
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Father and Jesus to remain distinct. This mathematical argument is in accordance with the theological claim that God the Father and Jesus exist as “true God from true God” while remaining separate entities.6 Hence, the properties of transfinite numbers allow us to understand that in the incarnation, Jesus maintained his divinity while remaining equal yet distinct from God the Father. Part II - Humanity without Sacrificing Divinity Adding up all that is Jesus. The Christological claim that Jesus is both human and divine at the same time is analogous to the claim that Jesus is both finite and infinite. On the surface, the latter appears to be the mathematician’s worst nightmare: a contradiction. Just as infinity is by definition opposite of the finite numbers, certain characteristics of humanity are directly opposite of divinity.7 This understanding of God’s relation to the physical universe, formally known as via negativa, claims that the infinite God utterly contrasts with the finite world and can only be defined by what God is not.8 Ancient Jews used the Hebrew word Eyn-sof to describe how God’s infinite greatness could not be contained on Earth.9 How then is it possible for Jesus, infinite and divine, to exist within the defined boundaries of Earth? Again, the properties of Cantor’s transfinite numbers allow us to understand how an infinite sequence can manifest itself in a finite way. Let us again imagine that Jesus is a transfinite set, this time comparing Christ to the sequence of numbers defined by 1 (thus the elements of this set are 1 1 1 1 and so on). There are an infinite number of elements defined by 1 so in our analogy Jesus is indeed infinite and thus divine. Yet adding this sequence of elements, defined by the notation: actually yields the finite result of one (see figure 1 below).
Again, the mathematical logic seems perplexing: adding an infinite amount of nonzero quantities somehow yields a finite result. Yet such limits, characteristic of certain transfinite sets, allow the concept of infinity to manifest in the finite. Hence in our analogy, Jesus, certainly a “divine” set of numbers, actually is capable of revealing himself in a finite, completely human form in the physical world. Since Jesus was able to exist as a human being, he provided humans with a way to conceptualize the Father. As God’s absolute infinity (Ω) is “closely associated with the notion of having no limit or boundary in terms of human conceptual understanding,” it is impossible for God to manifest himself in a finite manner.10 Yet Jesus represents a notion of infinity that humans can comprehend. Jesus becomes finite, in the form of the number 1, and attains a purely human identity. Yet as we examine the core of Jesus’ identity, we are able to see that his finiteness consists of an infinite amount of elements. Under his humanity lies a profound divinity, so rich that his character can be understood through a transfinite number as both infinite and finite – God and human. Part III: Humanity + Divinity = ﬡ As Cantor believed his work to be more significant theologically than mathematically, he used the Hebrew symbol ( ﬡaleph) to represent the magnitude of his transfinite sets.11 Although Cantor himself did not equate Jesus with ﬡ, certainly his theorem can help the modern Christian rationalize the Christological nature of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Jesus ( )ﬡbecame incarnate in a different magnitude of transfinity than God the Father himself, which allowed both figures to maintain equal yet distinct levels of divinity (infinity). Yet because Jesus is transfinite and not absolutely infinite (Ω), he could to fully embody humanity. Such transfinity, in its elegant mathematics, allows us to understand that Jesus was fully human while maintaining his complete divinity. This completes the proof.
Eli Maor, To infinity and Beyond: A Cultural History of the Infinite, (Boston: Birkhäuser Mathematics, 1991) 10. 2 Robert Russell, “The God Who Infinitely Transcends Infinity: Insights from Cosmology and Mathematics,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008): 56. 3 Joseph Dauben, Georg Cantor: His Mathematics and Philosophy of the Infinite, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990): 144. 4 Anne Newstead, “Cantor on Infinity in Nature, Number, and the Divine Mind,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 83:4 (2009): 535. 5 Dauben, 245. 6 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1982): 115. 7 Kathyrn Tanner, Jesus Humanity, and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001): 9. 8 Michael Heller, Infinity: New Research Frontiers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011): 279. 9 Sandra Valabregue-Perry, “The Concept of Infinity (Eyn-sof) and the Rise of Theosophical Kabbalah,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 102:3 (2012): 408. 10 Wilf Malcolm, “Thinking About God and Infinity, Can Mathematics Contribute?” Stimulus 18:2 (2010): 35. 11 Ibid. 1
Figure 1: The sum of the sequence 111111 can easily be visualized in the square. If we add half of the square’s area to a quarter of the square’s area to an eighth of the square’s area, and so on, our infinite sequence of additions will approach a limit and manifest as a finite sum, 1. The logic behind such limits disproved Zeno’s paradox given in the opening paragraph, allowing you to actually finish this paper! Drew Voigt ’14 is from Bloomington Minnesota. He is studying mathematics with a concentration in Biomolecular science, and he is a member of the men’s soccer team.
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Alli Livingston â€˜16 is a Studio Art and Art History major with an Educational Studies concentration. She is from New Brighton, MN.
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â€œLet us imagine that the college journey takes place over a long and wide pedestrian bridge.... [T]his bridge is held up by pillars. They are the educational values that influence teaching and decision-making. These pillars are in turn anchored by footings which are only partially visible. These footings are the distinctively Lutheran theological principles that anchor the operative educational values.... At St. Olaf the pillars draw on themes grounded in distinctively Lutheran theological principles but are formulated as broader educational values that can be supported by individuals who hold alternate religious commitments.â€?
St. Olaf College:
Lutheran Identity in an Age of Pluralism by Darrell Jodock, Martin E. Marty Regents Chair in Religion and the Academy
magine a setting in which a group of St. Olaf students and faculty are discussing the Lutheran identity of the College. Student A worries that increasing religious diversity among its faculty and students will undermine the Lutheran identity of the college. Student B expresses a different concern--that too narrow an understanding of its religious identity will leave students ill-equipped to deal with the religious pluralism of todayâ€™s world. These concerns are both important, but how important each is depends largely on how St. Olaf understands its Lutheran identity. Our society provides two default models for categorizing private colleges. One is sectarian. This model assumes that a church-related college should be relatively uniform in its religious outlook, with as many faculty, staff, and students as possible representing a particular faith tradition. They may be asked to sign a statement of belief, or the agreement may be less formal but no less real. A sectarian college is a religious enclave; religious diversity is either absent or not acknowledged. Believers feel supported and protected, but challenges and alternatives are not likely to be considered, making the sectarian college less able to foster a mature and resilient faith. Such a college is religiously rooted, but not inclusive, either in the sense of welcoming religious diversity or in the sense of interacting with the contemporary world. Student A may very well operate with a vision for St. Olaf that reflects a sectarian model. The second model is non-sectarian. It assumes that a private college should be a microcosm of the surrounding society, inclusive of the same religious diversity that is found there. To accomplish this, the non-sectarian college has chosen to sever all ties with a particular faith tradition, including the one that founded it. Religion is no longer a formative part of the collegeâ€™s identity. Religious diversity, though present, is not engaged. In effect, students, faculty, and staff are expected to check their religious identity at the gate, because religion is regarded as a private matter. Thus the non-sectarian college is also not well equipped to nurture a mature and resilient faith. The challenges are there, but they are not considered in an atmosphere where faith is taken seriously. The non-sectarian college is inclusive, but not rooted. Student B may have a vision for St. Olaf that reflects a non-sectarian model.
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1. Hebrew for peace 2. Just to be clear, dialogue does not imply that all religions are the same or that differences do not matter. 3. The point here is that a person who values the depth of one religion and has explored intensively is usually better equipped to appreciate the depth of another religion than is the person for whom secular answers are sufficient and all religious claims are suspect. 4. The term “Christian” can be too broad or too narrow to describe the religious identity of St. Olaf. If it denotes what all Christians share, this word is too broad to be useful. The basic Christian beliefs (as expressed in the creeds, for example) are insufficiently focused to define the character of an educational community. The term “Christian” may also denote a version of it that is too narrow and exclusive. Over one hundred colleges in the United States are part of a “Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.” Examples in Minnesota are Bethel University, the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, and Crown College in St. Bonifacius. Here the word “Christian” refers not to Christianity in general but to a specific version of what it means to be Christian—a definition not shared by the colleges affiliated with the ELCA. When used in this way, “Christian” is actually narrower than “Lutheran.” 5. The third path is not itself exclusively Lutheran. A Benedictine college, for example, might well also follow a third path. However, the path itself will likely be charted somewhat differently, because it is informed by Benedictine rather than Lutheran theological principles. This article deals with St. Olaf and its Lutheran tradition, rather than discussing other possible versions of a third path.
A Third Path What these two students likely have in common is an assumption that there are only two models: a college is either sectarian or non-sectarian. If a college moves away from one model, it must automatically move toward the other. I would like to suggest that there is a third model, a third path. This third path follows a vision for the college that is both rooted and inclusive. The college remains deeply rooted in a religious tradition that provides the ingredients for an educational vision, access to human wisdom, and reflections on the mystery of life. Such a faith tradition taps into insights uncovered by generations or centuries of experience and reflection. It is deep and resilient. It has weathered the storms of disappointment, conflict, and loss, as well as celebrated glimpses of compassion, justice, and shalom1. A third path college is inclusive both in the sense of wanting to serve the larger society and in the sense of welcoming persons of different religious persuasions, since they too can be inspired and equipped to serve society. This kind of college is like a deep well that nourishes the whole community. A college on this path provides opportunities for students and others to practice their faith and learn more about it, while at the same time encountering other faiths and challenges to their own. It models a healthy relationship between faith and learning. It practices inter-religious dialogue.2 A college following the third path supports the kind of religious outlook that fosters cooperation, peace, and justice rather than aggression or conflict. In this way and in others, it contributes to the wellbeing of the larger society. The purpose of this essay is to explain how and why the Lutheran tradition supports a third path approach. It explains the contours of such a third path and, more specifically, indicates how the Lutheran identity of St. Olaf supports inter-religious hospitality. Claiming a Particular Religious Tradition If a college is to follow the third path, it must claim a particular religious tradition. From the perspective offered by this tradition, it is then equipped to appreciate others.3 Some find the particularity of one tradition problematic, but no alternative exists -- there is no neutral starting point. It is not possible to practice all religions, so a person who tries is inevitably selective. Just as a person cannot be human in general but is always particular (masculine, feminine, American, Japanese, old, young, etc.), so religion is always particular. The discomfort some feel in the face of particularity is misplaced. Particularity is unavoidable. The more important issue is how particularity is understood and practiced. Is it used to draw lines or to connect with others? How should we label this particularity? Some would prefer to use the word “Christian,” but in our society Christian is a highly contested term. For many, it signals a specific way of being Christian, and as such, it is often filled with connotations, such as biblical inerrancy or a disparagement of other religions, that do not fit the St. Olaf tradition.4 Replacing Lutheran with Christian turns out not to be a workable option. The clearest way to describe the religious identity of St. Olaf is to explain that it follows the third path and is rooted in the Lutheran tradition. The Lutheran tradition enables the College to be both inclusive and rooted.5 A Bridge We need first to clarify the role that Lutheran principles play in a college that follows the third path. Let us imagine that the college journey takes place over a long and wide pe-
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destrian bridge. At one end is enrollment. At the other end is graduation. Every aspect of college life occurs on this bridge—classes, laboratories, dormitory life, chapel, athletic events. The bridge is populated not only with students but also with professors, administrators, secretaries, cooks, custodians, and carpenters. To extend the metaphor, this bridge is held up by pillars. They are the educational values that influence teaching and decision-making. These pillars are in turn anchored by footings which are only partially visible. These footings are the distinctively Lutheran theological principles that anchor the operative educational values. An individual employee or student can function on the deck without stepping back to see the whole structure, but understanding the structure clarifies what to expect while on the bridge and equips people to discern what fits within the college’s shared values. If St. Olaf were a non-sectarian college, the footings would be abandoned, or at least the tie between them and the pillars would be broken. On the other hand, if St. Olaf were a sectarian college, there would be no intermediary between the footings and the deck. The religious principles themselves would be the priorities for what happens on the deck. At St. Olaf the pillars draw on themes grounded in distinctively Lutheran theological principles but are formulated as broader educational values that can be supported by individuals who hold alternate religious commitments. The distinction between footings and pillars is made possible by the dual character of the Lutheran outlook. Unlike denominations that emphasize the dividing line between the natural and the supernatural, the Lutheran tradition finds the sacred in the midst of the ordinary. This means that God is understood to work in and through humans and the natural world. When two persons look at an act of generosity or service, one observer may see a human behaving in a moral way, while the other may see both God and the human at work. The educational values that I am describing as pillars can be supported both by Lutherans and by those who are not. The essay first examines the footings to identify the theological basis for a Lutheran college that follows the third path. The two students with whom we began both have legitimate concerns. Our purpose here is to show why we do not need to choose between Lutheran identity and diversity. The six footings that I will discuss are tied together, but for purposes of clarity I will consider them separately and let the explanations signal some overlap.
A third path college is inclusive both in the
The Footings: Lutheran Theological Principles sense of wanting to serve the larger society that Anchor the College’s Identity The priority of the gospel. Lutherans under- and in the sense of welcoming persons of difstand “gospel” as the good news that God takes the initiative to overcome our estrangement and ferent religious persuasions, since they too adopts humans without any prerequisites. For the can be inspired and equipped to serve society. Lutheran tradition, this is the core teaching of the Bible, and forgetting it leads to a misunderstanding of Christianity. The gospel is not a set of ideas so much as it is a communication event. That is, the same words can strike some people in some circumstances as bad news and others as good news. If a person very much wants to “do it myself,” the message that God has done the reconciling may not seem at all like good news. Moreover, words are not the only way to communicate. Actions can also convey the gospel. So gospel has to do with the message, with how it is conveyed, and with how it is heard. If the gospel has priority, then the focus is on God’s generosity rather than our faith—and faith is not a pre-requisite. For Luther, faith does not come first, as
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in “if you believe, then you will be right with God.” Faith instead tags along after God’s initiative. Faith is acknowledging what God has already been doing.6 Over time, such acknowledging develops into trust—a trust in God and the promises of God. Because faith is a matter of trust, it is inherently relational. In its strictest sense, gospel has to do with the God-human relationship. It is all about God restoring and healing a damaged relationship. But, once perceived here, God’s gifting can be seen elsewhere as well. Human life is itself a gift. The created world is a gift. The requisite amount of social order is For Luther, faith does not come first, as in “if you a gift. When giftedness is recognized, gratitude believe, then you will be right with God.” Faith in- is the appropriate human response. A down-to-earth image of God. Lutherans stead tags along after God’s initiative. Faith is ac- do not expect God to be in control of every knowledging what God has already been doing. world event. God gave humans enough freedom so that many choices are contrary to the will of God. But neither do Lutherans expect a disengaged God. They see God at work behind the scenes, in and through humans and creatures and events, fostering wholeness and working against injustice, oppression, and anything that undermines shalom. So God does not control, does not ignore, does not regularly interrupt, but does engage with and interact with humans and the world. As already mentioned, Lutherans do not assume that something must be either supernatural or natural.7 Instead, they exhibit what can be called a “sacramental sense.” Things in the world and in experience, even things that are not perfect examples of goodness, are regarded to be transparent to the presence of God and capable of serving as channels of God’s activity. This understanding of God’s presence allows for the dual view that has already been described, where one person sees both God and humans at work in an event while another sees only human agency. Such a dual view is important in a college that follows the third path, because persons who do see God active in the world and those who do not can work together and can share an educational vision, even if they do not have the same theological commitments. According to a central theme in the Bible, the goal of this divine presence is shalom. The Bible holds up many images of shalom: swords beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, 6. Faith gained prominence during wolves lying down with lambs, a heavenly city the Reformation because Luther’s coming down to earth with space and food and opponents argued that it was an water and medicine for all, with gates that never insufficient response to God’s generclose, and with God so close at hand that no temosity. Good works and submission to ple is needed.8 For Luther, the Bible reveals God’s church authority were also necessary, character and purpose, but at the same time much they thought. But, for Luther, faith was secondary to grace. The emphasis about God remains hidden. As a result, no human was on what God was doing, not on can detect precisely what God is currently doing the human response. “Faith alone” is to foster shalom. Our knowing is too limited and an inadequate indication of Luther’s is too influenced by our own interests. But, as outlook unless it is part of the expandboth the Old Testament and the New Testament ed shorthand expression: “Grace alone, demonstrate, important messages can come from Christ alone, faith alone.” individuals who are neither Israelites nor members of the church. So, because anything or any7. The traditions that do this are worone can be a “mask” of God’s presence and a channel of God’s gifting, dialogue ried about avoiding idolatry. between people of differing religious traditions can be beneficial. Either dialogue partner, or both, can become a channel of God’s gifting. 8. See Isaiah 2:4, 11:6-7; Rev. 21:2, 22:2, 21:25, 21:22. Student A was worried that religious diversity would undermine the Lu-
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theran identity of the College. This need not happen if there is genuine religious dialogue. Student B was worried about preparing students for a society comprised of people with differing religious identities. Inter-religious dialogue, combined with the study of religion, provides this preparation. In other words, the College does not need to reduce its Lutheran ties in order to prepare students for life in a religiously pluralistic society. A sense of vocation. Luther expanded the concept of vocation to include all believers and any activity that is of benefit to the community. Prior to the Reformation, only monks, nuns, and priests were understood to have a vocation, a calling from God to do what they were doing. Luther’s idea was that farmers could understand themselves So, vocation became the calling of every as called by God to provide healthy food to the human to serve the neighbor and the comcommunity, parents could understand themselves as called by God to raise their children in ways that munity in and through all areas of life— would benefit the community, teachers could un- in and through one’s work, family reladerstand themselves to be called to equip children tions, treatment of nature, and citizenship. to become wise and discerning adults, and so on. So, vocation became the calling of every human to serve the neighbor and the community in and through all areas of life—in and through one’s work, family relations, treatment of nature, and citizenship. Since Luther’s day, vocation has sometimes been misunderstood as merely an endorsement of work. It is not. It encompasses more than work, and it can challenge our work. It raises questions about who is being helped and who is being hurt by every one of our decisions and our actions. Our calling is to serve those who need it most. A deeper sense of freedom. Luther recognized that humans have freedom of choice. They can choose to dress this way or that, to marry this person or another, and so on. But he also observed that freedom of choice operates only on one level. Freedom on the level of choice does not imply freedom on the level of underlying attachments. A deeper un-freedom influences our choices. This un-freedom Luther described as enslavement to the self or to some other “god.”9 The gospel overcomes this enslavement. To be gifted by God and by other humans is to be set free -- to be “opened up” to the other. The resulting freedom is relational and hence paradoxical. The person is both a “perfectly free lord of all, subject to 9. Luther’s famous definition of a pernone, [and] a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject son’s god is “that to which your heart to all.”10 When this free, a person is able to listen, to clings and entrusts itself.” It appears in perceive what the neighbor needs, and to make serhis explanation to the First Commandvice to the neighbor the highest ethical priority. ment in his Large Catechism. A distinction between two ways in which God in10. Martin Luther, “The Freedom of teracts with the world.11 In the arena of God-human a Christian,” Luther’s Works, volume relations, Lutherans see God as generous and gifting, 12 31 (Philadelphia, Muhlenberg Press, “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” 1957), 344. They also affirm that, in order to protect humans, God also works through structures, institutions, and 11. Luther, “On Temporal Authority: governments, where coercion often is needed to reTo What Extent it Should be Obeyed,” strain evil and limit injustice. The same God with the same motivation interacts Luther’s Works, volume 45, (Philadelwith the world in two ways. Just as a parent may rush to comfort an injured child phia, Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 91-92. in one moment and restrain that child from fighting with his or her sibling in an12. Psalm 103:8. other, so God both shows mercy to humans and seeks justice through institutions.
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13. Luther was objecting to any scholasticism that claimed to have Christian truth in a complete, well-organized, coherent package. In our day, an example of a theology of glory is a timetable for the end of the world that picks and chooses biblical passages, mixes in some non-biblical ideas, and claims both to have answered a question that the Bible itself does not and to have provided an answer that is authorized by the Bible. The consequences can be significant when its supporters endorse violence rather than peace and expect to escape a suffering world rather than serve it. 14. “The paradox then was that Luther found peace with God by accepting inner turmoil and doubt as part of the human condition.” Richard Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999), 210. 15. Marius 98. 16. It is out of step with the “gospel of prosperity” so frequently espoused by some popular television preachers. 17. In his Bondage of the Will. 18. The result is thus neither exclusivism nor universalism.
The distinction is important for a college that pursues a third path. Both kinds of activity can be found in a college built on Lutheran footings. St. Olaf has a chapel where worship services are held and to which everyone is invited, but the College as a whole is not a church, a Bible camp, or a monastery; it is an educational institution. Without this distinction, St. Olaf would become either a religious enclave or a non-sectarian college. A sectarian college typically melds the two modes of divine action, giving religious sanction to its rules, while a non-sectarian college abandons any desire to celebrate the generosity of God and inspire generosity in its on-campus relationships. Generosity is not absent but no ethos supports it, and as a result, an ethos of competitiveness often prevails. A theology of the cross. Luther objected to what he called a “theology of glory”—that is, any mixture of revealed truths and human inferences that passes itself off as “the faith” and requires acceptance.13 A theology of glory claims to know more about God than has been revealed and often produces subservience rather than thoughtfulness. In contrast, Luther supported a theology of the cross which recognizes the limits of its knowledge, does not suppress doubts, and lives with unanswered questions.14 A theology of the cross acknowledges that theological thinking is relational. Its task is not primarily to formulate an organized set of teachings but to explore the character, purpose, and work of God, insofar as it affects humans in ways revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Though the theology of the cross is not determined by a person’s own experience, individual beliefs are deeply influenced by that experience. In the words of Reformation scholar Richard Marius, “Since Luther throughout equates ‘truth’ with a dynamic, true knowledge of ourselves and God, … [a person] understands the truth only by experiencing it.”15 Of particular significance is the experience of suffering. A theology of the cross recognizes that, contrary to human expectations, God can be seen more clearly through suffering than through success.16 What is promised to the disciple is not immunity from suffering but hope in the midst of it—the kind of hope that can “be with” sufferers and can work to eliminate their suffering. A theology of the cross suggests that, because we do not have all the answers, inter-religious dialogue is beneficial. Dialogue yields new insights and takes religion seriously without insisting on uniformity. My own experience is that Jewish-Christian dialogue has alerted me to valuable insights found in my own tradition that I had overlooked. And it has helped me identify harmful patterns that need correcting. A third path is possible because dialogue strengthens faith and deepens one’s understanding of the faith, instead of undermining or weakening one’s faith, as some fear. Luther was very clear that one person cannot know what God’s relationship is to another person. 17 If this is true, then groups of people cannot be pigeonholed, whether as all damned or all saved.18 Moreover, if God’s love has no pre-requisites, then one cannot say “you must do this or you must do that” in order to be right with God. Listening is crucial; dialogue depends on it. We have already noted that the Lutheran tradition considers God to be hidden as well as revealed. Yes, humans can know God’s attitude toward them and something of God’s character and purpose, but they cannot see the world from God’s point of view. This means that, no matter how deep their commitment may be or how much theology they know, persons of faith must maintain a distinction between God and their ideas about God. Every believer has to be open to the possibility that the tradition may not have chosen the best words to express its experience of a generous, active, down-to-earth God. The incompleteness of our understanding makes dialogue valuable and allows challenges to our understand-
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ing of God to be constructive. Such challenges help faith mature, just as dialogue can open the door to a yet better understanding of the relational core of one’s own faith. The Pillars: Operating Principles that Function as Shared Educational Values The pillars inform the College’s policies and decisions, and they build on the theological footings enumerated above. They function as middle principles, borrowing insights from the theological footings and expressing them in a way that is useful for guiding life at the College. These pillars need broad support, because shared values are what make the College a community rather than a cluster of individuals. Shared values do not imply uniformity. They do not supply prescribed answers. They often take the form of questions that are deemed worthy of consideration. Fostering a pervasive sense of giftedness and gratitude. The first footing we discussed was the priority of the gospel. The gospel is primarily a communication event in which individual humans are reconciled with God. When we move to the pillar it anchors, we encounter an educational value, which has to do with an understanding of life and of relationships. First, an understanding of life. Unlike a sense of entitlement, a sense of giftedness acknowledges that we did not choose to be born, that we go to schools we did not build, drive on roads we did not construct, eat food we did not grow, benefit from medical knowledge we did not uncover, enjoy trees we did not plant, and so on. If we value education or know how to work, it is because someone taught us to do so. Indeed, everything that we are is a gift from others. This recognition is available both to those who believe in God and to those who do not. A college with this pillar seeks to provide the kind of community in which generosity is experienced, named, and celebrated. The resulting sense of gratitude is an outlook on life that makes possible a sense of vocation and fosters radical hospitality. When persons who do or do not consider themselves Christian experience a community of generosity and gratitude, they can acknowledge their giftedness and practice acts of gratitude and generosity. Second, an understanding of relationships. Whatever form the practice of generosity and hospitality takes, it creates bonds. In the College as a whole, communal bonds make enlightening civil discourse far more likely—whether the issue is moral or intellectual or vocational. Good education is relational. If St. Olaf is what it aspires to be, then any person who enters the college community will experience generosity—a generosity of words and actions not restricted to some “in” group. Just as there are no pre-requisites for God’s generosity, so there are no pre-requisites for experiencing the human-to-human graciousness that expresses itself in radical hospitality and in ongoing respect and concern. Inspiring a robust sense of vocation. Using the word vocation to describe a footing and again to describe a pillar can be confusing. It signals a linkage, but there is also a distinction. The theological footing of vocation is a calling from God. As a pillar, the educational goal has more to do with meaning and purpose in life. As the St. Olaf mission statement says, “In the conviction that life is more than a livelihood, it [a St. Olaf education] focuses on what is ultimately
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worthwhile.” No one prescribes what is “ultimately worthwhile.” It is left open for individual exploration and the incorporation of personal priorities and commitments. But, building on the Lutheran tradition, the college believes that service to others is part of what is “ultimately worthwhile.” A sense of vocation has to do with perspective. How does one’s work, political activity, or avocation serve others? Vocation can be defined as (a) an understanding of the self, not as an isolated unit, but as nested in a larger community, and (b) an overarching ethical priority to serve the neighbor and the community in all areas of life. Vocation, as understood here, is primarily about the needs of other human beings. It is thus a calling that comes from outside the self. According to its mission statement, St. Olaf encourages students “to be seekers of truth, leading lives of unselfish service to others; and it challenges them to be responsible and knowledgeable citizens of the world.” Though vocation is a Lutheran word, the concept is congenial to any humane understanding of religion. For example, an open letter to Jewish and Christian leaders in 2007 from 138 of the world’s leading Muslim scholars and intellectuals suggested that the two-fold invitation to “love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, and mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself ” could be the basis for Muslim-Christian-Jewish cooperation.19 This love of neighbor is at the heart of vocation. Nurturing a deeper sense of freedom. Once again the words of the footing and the words of this pillar overlap. The distinction is that the footing focuses on the freedom experienced by the person of faith, while this pillar focuses on independent thought, independent moral judgment, and courageous ethical action.
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This kind of freedom can extricate a human from unthinkingly endorsing the assumptions of society (consumerism, careerism, American exceptionalism, and the like) and can nurture the courage to act justly and compassionately in the face of societal indifference or opposition. An important ingredient in this freedom is a sense of agency. The word liberal in liberal arts means “free” and/or “freeing,” so the liberal arts are about those studies that set a person free and distinguish the free person from the slave. Because the liberal arts and the Lutheran tradition both seek to nourish freedom, they fit well together.20 The liberal arts aim to free a person both from prejudice, ignorance, and the like and for service to the neighbor and the community. This pillar suggests that teaching and learning at a Lutheran college should always pay attention to the significance of the subject matter for the learner and for those in need. Holding up wisdom as the central goal of education. Such freedom has another dimension. In order to aid the neighbor and serve the community effectively, a person needs wisdom—that is, an understanding of humans and communities, what they need to be healthy and [N]o matter how deep their commitment how they work. Admittedly, wisdom can come from more may be or how much theology they know, than one source, but education is key. By examining “the doings and sayings of the entire world, and how things persons of faith must maintain a distinction went with various cities, kingdoms, princes, men and between God and their ideas about God. women” students can “gain from history the knowledge and understanding of what to seek and what to avoid in this outward life, and be able to advise and direct others accordingly.”21 For Luther, rather than rules of conduct, the Scriptures provide the kind of wisdom or guidance (Torah) that can help a person treat others in a way that upholds their God-given worth. It opens possibilities and invites creativity rather than only identifying limits. Wisdom is complex enough to require interaction with others. A person can gather knowledge on one’s own but needs the added perspective of others with differing experiences and insights in order to decide what is good for the larger community and good for the individuals in it. It is no accident that St. Olaf is a residential college, with many opportunities for interaction, both in and outside of class. Even in the Bible, wisdom is not the possession only of the Israelites. It is borrowed freely from other peoples. If the goal of higher education is enhanced wisdom, then one place wisdom may be found is in dialogue with people from other cultures and other religious traditions. This is why St. Olaf, in its mission 19. “A Common Word Between Us and statement, incorporates “a global perspective” and “strives to be an inclusive comYou.” Available at <www.acommonmunity, respecting those of differing backgrounds and beliefs.” A college followword.com/the-acw-document/>. ing the third path will not be content with imparting knowledge and forming skills; it will seek to develop wisdom. 20. See Darrell Jodock, “The Lutheran Emphasizing community and relationality. Given the priority of vocation and Tradition and the Liberal Arts College: How are They Related?” in Pamela of wisdom, we can say that learning takes place in a community for the sake of Schwandt, editor, Called to Serve: St. the larger community. Because those who seek to serve the larger community Olaf and the Vocation of a Church often confront resistance to justice and pressures opposed to shalom, they need a College (Northfield: St. Olaf College, support community. A support community equips students to act with courage 1999), 13-36. and moral conviction, while at the same time helping them discern the course of action most likely to help others. 21. Luther, “To the Councilmen of All Given the pervasive individualism of our society, emphasizing the imporCities in Germany that They Establish tance of community—a learning community, the larger community, and a supand Maintain Christian Schools,” Luport community--can be a genuine contribution to the public good. ther’s Works, volume 45 (Philadelphia: Epistemological humility. The footing, theology of the cross, primarily deals Muhlenberg Press, 1962), 368-369.
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with our knowledge of God. This pillar extends the epistemological caution from the sphere of God to all knowledge. The warrant for this caution is not only theological. A variety of philosophers have reminded us that our knowledge is finite and incomplete. Given the ever-changing character of human knowledge, our finite perspective, and our procliviThe third path enables the College both to appreciate ty to accept as true what benefits us, humility is crucial. its own tradition and welcome people from other faith epistemological It prevents ideas—whether scientraditions. Instead of insisting on a unified belief, or tific, political, religious, or ethibecoming ideologies that ignoring belief, a third path college takes faith traditions cal—from claim to provide complete answers, seriously and invites them into dialogue. In this way it of- expect subscription from others, fers a much-needed contribution to our polarized society. and often resort to coercion of one sort or another to win approval. Education aimed at wisdom simultaneously takes ideas seriously and recognizes their limits. It practices civil discourse and challenges polarizing certainties. This pillar has two implications. The first is freedom of inquiry. The St. Olaf mission statement endorses “free inquiry and free expression.” Critical and constructive thinking are at stake. If we do not have complete or final knowledge, then everything human is reformable. Anything and everything is subject to scrutiny. Whether religion, politics, scientific proposals, or the operation of the College or our interpretation of the Bible, nothing is exempt—because critique is a way to test ideas and institutions and to discern where they may be damaging humane living. Such criticism is, however, preliminary. The ultimate goal of a college, following the third path, is not to tear things apart but to rebuild or reform them in such a way that they serve humans and the world more effectively. When understood this way, freedom of inquiry depends on epistemological humility and contributes to vocation. The second implication is a commitment to dialogue, including both civil discourse and inter-religious relations. The third path enables the College both to appreciate its own tradition and welcome people from other faith traditions. Instead of insisting on a unified belief (sectarian), or ignoring belief (non-sectarian), a third path college takes faith traditions seriously and invites them into dialogue. In this way it offers a much-needed contribution to our polarized society. Affirming mystery and cultivating a sense of wonder. As used here, the word mystery does not include what can, in principle, be known even if it is not yet understood. It thus goes beyond epistemological humility. Added knowledge does not make mystery disappear, rather it expands the mystery. With ever more powerful instruments, a person can map the universe and put everything in its place, but sheer magnitude of the universe inspires a deep sense of mystery. The human response to mystery is a sense of wonder. This sense of wonder inspires writers, artists, and scientists. It comes to expression in worship. It keeps an academy community from becoming pedantic and humans from over-reaching. That is, a sense of wonder recognizes the mystery of another person and thwarts any attempt to manipulate or control that person. A sense of wonder about the nature does the same. A college that follows the third path finds ways to acknowledge mystery and to encourage wonder. The Importance of Anchoring the College in Lutheran Theological Principles Because modern history shows how easily institutions of higher education can be co-opted, anchoring the pillars with footings is necessary. Knowledge alone, even when aided by the values of the Enlightenment, has not been able to
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withstand the pressure of popular political ideologies. Hence, it is not safe for a college to assume that un-anchored pillars are enough to keep it the kind of learning community it aspires to be. For example, the polarization of our society militates against civil discourse. Its individualism discourages healthy communities and civic engagement. Careerism undercuts a robust sense of vocation. Pervasive anxieties about climate change, the changing role of the US in the world, and increasing economic disparities, produce a paralysis that undermines service. A sense of entitlement undermines gratitude. The propensity within modern society to seek control interferes with a sense of mystery and threatens our relationship with the natural world. The massiveness of our society undermines a sense of agency. Consumerism, the ubiquity of choices in our overstocked stores, and the lure of so many distractions mask our underlying un-freedom, and this unacknowledged un-freedom has consequences both for the individual and the wider community. But, if the anchor can hold, then outcomes of third path education will enable St. Olaf to continue to make a significant contribution to our society. Whatever a studentâ€™s personal religious commitments, if that student graduates with a robust sense of vocation, of giftedness and gratitude, of agency, of community, of epistemological humility, of mystery and wonder, of a deeper freedom, of wisdom, of commitment to civil discourse and inter-religious dialogue, then he/she will contribute in significant ways to the betterment of family, neighbors, communities, and society as a whole. Darrell Jodock â€˜62 serves as the Martin Marty Regents Chair in Religion and the Academy. A history major at St. Olaf, he earned an M.Div. from Luther Seminary and a Ph.D. from Yale University. In 2012 he retired from the Bernhardson Chair at Gustavus Adolphus College and previously taught at Muhlenberg College and Luther Seminary. His fields include Lutheran Studies, the history of Christian Thought, and Jewish-Christian Relations.
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In the wilderness of my mind, I stumble towards God, who comforts and supports me despite my flaws. I’ve hesitated to write about this tangled path of my life, as I fear that untangling the chaos may be overwhelming. But now, with a full disclosure, I write this story, out of that very wilderness, both for myself and in the hope that others may find it comforting. During the spring of 2012, I carried a card in my planner that read “God only gives you what you can handle.” Like most Oles, I juggled classes, research, and volunteering, and consequently, was often anxious and panicked. I convinced myself I was testing my boundaries, but in the chaos of my life, I quickly became lost. A few months later, I found adventure and escape when I traveled to India with eight other students to study biology. Ostensibly, I surveyed bird diversity and investigated seed dispersal mechanisms, but most of my days in India simply taught me to coexist with heat and mosquitoes. I spent most of my time wandering through rural streets, or – I’m embarrassed to admit this – relaxing under the marvel of a ceiling fan. India gave me the space I needed to explore, and the opportunity to
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grow closer to others. Indian trains are jammed with people, but also allow for intimacy with your own thoughts and your own companions. After a harrowing day, filled with a little too much self-pity, my friend and I stood, lost and helpless, in a busy city station, struggling to find the train that would take us home. A kind stationmaster helped us on board the right one, and we pressed through the crowd toward the ladies’ compartment. We stared blankly at the crowded car, but were rescued from the lack of seats by three friendly women in the middle of the car. For those who don’t know, the doors on the middle cars of most Indian trains are left open to the air (and the danger of the train tracks) where late-comers crowd together. We sat and chatted with the women in this exposed area amidst baskets of snacks and bangles and a young girl who perched herself on my friend’s lap. These women brought joy to each other and their work, selling samosas, trinkets and the always-necessary handkerchief (or as we called them, sweat-cloths). I wish we had accepted their offer to dinner, but personal safety often overrode im-
mersion during our trip. Nevertheless, I strove to accept the adventure before me with even a fraction of the equanimity displaced by almost every person I met. Trains are India’s gift to the bewildered traveler, and I journeyed with an open mind, seeking closeness with others around me, while remaining aware that the wilderness passed by just a few feet outside the open car door. I wish that I could say I grew to truly know God during that time of exploration, but my journey was much longer and more complicated than I expected. India made me vulnerable to myself and to others, and I was tortured by doubt – about everything – like never before. When I returned to St. Olaf, I tried to find my path again. It is a path I am still trying to discover, but the wilderness feels more familiar. In India, a light course load allowed me to withdraw into my thoughts, but St. Olaf, with its emphasis on goals and planning, all but paralyzed me with uncertainty. One Sunday in March, I set aside the entire day to journal through my doubt. While in India, I had forced myself to continue walking down the
path towards my goal of applying to doctoral programs in evolutionary biology, despite my desire to pursue writing or physical therapy. My aspirations were fuzzy, and I confronted the sharp weapon of doubt each time I opened my journal. But that day was different. We don’t often talk about voices or visions. Mystical experiences usually seem absurd to most people, and to me as well – but that day, as I sat trying to reason through my doubt, I felt God’s presence for the first time. Blinded by the tangle of doubt before me, I was stunned by my own impotence, and it was in that moment that God reached out. With a clarity I struggle to maintain today, I became fully aware that He was watching over me. God knows that I try to be kind, successful, and virtuous, and He supports me despite my failures. I am strong enough to share my experience with you now because I found the courage to be vulnerable, and I am who I am because of God. As a community, we Oles scoff at vulnerability, but without it I could not have found my faith. Only when I faced my helplessness could I feel God’s un-
conditional love. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians acknowledges the pain of trying to live up to God’s plans: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NIV). God rescued me just as he rescued Paul and his companions. I walk with the confidence that God guides me, but I am still vulnerable. I’ve guarded this moment from so many, embarrassed and afraid that their doubt will be contagious. My story is not new, but every word of it is specific to my experience. I pray that you may walk your path without stumbling; but if you do trip, I pray that you also find the openness to feel God’s love. Natalie Hofmeister ‘13 is currently working on a masters degree in Conservation Biology at Columbia. She studied biology and women’s studies at St. Olaf and is an ardent bird enthusiast.
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The Visible and Invisible Church:
A look at the purpose of Christian churches through the Nicene Creed by Steven Lee
istory is riddled with churches that have strayed from their purpose, from the church of the crusades to the contemporary Westboro Baptist Church. To evaluate such churches and their actions, one needs to understand the distinction between the invisible and visible church. This article articulates a Lutheran perspective of the two based on an explication of the Nicene Creed’s statement, “the one holy catholic and apostolic church.”1 The visible church differs from the invisible church in nature and function, but not in purpose. While the visible church strives to represent the Christian message, it will by its nature always fail to do so completely and must be treated like any other imperfect human organization. The invisible church is a term for all believers in Jesus Christ. Humans cannot fully discern belief, an internal feeling; only God can discern the invisible church’s membership. The invisible church is a purely spiritual organization, bound together by God, and described by Paul as “we, though many, are one body.”2 The members of the invisible church believe in Jesus
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Christ. This belief is more than mere mental assent as we use it in contemporary language; it denotes trust, loyalty, and reliance. One who believes in Jesus Christ follows His teachings and lives in His stead. A visible church is a human organization that supports Christians in their varied expressions of belief, trust, in Christ. Like other human organizations, the members of a visible church define the organization by external actions, such as attending worship services and sometimes by formal requirements. The members of a visible church meet, communicate, and work together to pursue common goals. A visible church is often instituted under secular law and establishes internal government. Typically, a visible church owns property like any other organization. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Southern Baptist Convention, Northfield’s St. John’s Lutheran Church, and Thursday Night Bible Study all exemplify visible churches. Visible churches support Christians in their belief in Christ in varying ways. Some baptize infants and others confirm members. Even though visible churches vary in how they support Christians,
all visible churches can be discussed collectively as the visible church. The visible church and the invisible church overlap, but are not coextensive. The Second Vatican Council described this relationship by declaring in 1964 that the invisible church “subsists in the [Roman] Catholic Church.”3 Lutherans extend this to all visible churches. Subsist means to exist, persist, or continue,4 and implies
the twelve disciples. This term describes how “the household of God” is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” and they on Jesus.6 The invisible church preaches the message of the apostles, those “sent out,” that has been recounted in scripture “from those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses.”7 The next defining term is catholic. The word catholic – Greek καθολικός – means general or universal.8 The term catholic refers to the span of The visible human organization the invisible church across denominations, cultures, languages, and centuries. The Apology of the Augsburg in which the invisible church is Confession, written by the sixteenth-century Lutheran housed will always be flawed – reformer Phillip Melanchthon, describes the “Church Catholic” as “men scattered throughout the whole lacking perfect unity and holiworld, … whether they have the same human traditions ness, straying from its purpose or not.”9 The contemporary Protestant theologian Douglas John Hall describes the defining belief of the of supporting Christian belief. invisible church as “pondered over by centuries of the faithful,” hinting at the unifying purpose provided by a complicated interrelation between the visible and the invisible church.10 the invisible church. Visible churches provide for the The term one indicates unity in God despite institutional needs of the invisible church, just as a differences of time, place, and teaching. Given the house provides for those who live within. The invisible span of the invisible church, this is neither a unity of church also exists outside the visible church. Since the tradition nor organization. For instance, Saint Paul invisible church subsists in, not as, the visible church, met the other apostles after three years of ministry.11 nonbelievers may subsist in the visible church. Not all Yet, “there is one body and one Spirit, … one Lord, one participants in the visible church are members of the faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is invisible church. The weakness of the verb “to subsist” over all and through all and in all.”12 In other words, the indicates that unbelievers may not only subsist in, but invisible church is unified under one Lord. The rule of may rule and distort the visible church. this common Lord, as He and the one Spirit guide and Although sometimes distorted, the visible church direct the invisible church, provides unity of purpose derives its purpose, belief in Jesus, from the invisible and direction. Indeed, the creed begins with the subject church. Christians have long wrestled with describing we, which refers to the invisible church. The confession their belief. In the fourth century, the Second of belief in “God, the Father almighty,” “Jesus Christ, Ecumenical Council adopted the Nicene Creed, which the only Son of God,” and “the Holy Spirit” reinforces is accepted today by the Roman Catholic, the Eastern the unified identity of the invisible church. Orthodox, and most Protestant churches. The creed Finally, holy means set apart by God’s choosing. presents a broad, helpful, and orthodox understanding The Nicene Creed describes the invisible church as a of the invisible church. It describes the invisible church worldwide body of people, set apart from the ways of the 5 as “the one holy catholic and apostolic church.” world and of sin by Jesus Christ.13 The visible church is Explication of the Nicene set apart from other human Creed reveals that while the organizations to the extent [B]elief is more than mere invisible church is truly unified, that it represents God and mental assent as we use it in sanctified, apostolic, and follows the purpose of the universal, the visible church, a contemporary language; it denotes invisible church. human organization, is none of Unlike the invisible trust, loyalty, and reliance. those. The two churches share church, the visible church in purpose, but differ in nature. is not unified, sanctified, The invisible church, subsisting in the visible church, apostolic, or universal. It is divided amongst many strives to hold the visible church true to its mission. visible churches that fight each other. Unlike the The descriptor apostolic means the invisible church invisible church, unified and coordinated by Jesus, is founded upon the tradition passed down from visible churches rarely act together. This disharmony
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stems from their human nature. Visible churches consist of people who, in their nature, act sinfully and proclaim themselves rather than God. Although visible churches seek to teach the apostolic message, they teach much derived from traditional and contemporary human culture. Thus, while the visible church seeks to support the invisible church, it can never do so perfectly as a collection of limited human organizations. The Nicene Creed continues to describe the church’s purpose with its final statement that “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”14 Paul not only expects, but seeks, to “attain the resurrection from the dead.”15 The church cries, with the German poet F. G. Klopstock, “Auferstehn, ja, auferstehn,” meaning, “we will rise again, yes, we will rise again.”16 The invisible church lives in confident expectation of the future resurrection and looks for “the life of the world to come.” This life, while of the world to come, is not found exclusively in the world to come. Across time the invisible church remembers “He [the Holy Spirit] will [and does] … grant eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ.”17 This raises a final stark contrast. The invisible church looks for its preservation into “the world to come,” while the visible church is fleeting by nature. In heaven, there will be no need for the government or property that is currently needed The visible church is by the visible church. not following set apart from other When Jesus, the visible church human organizations may pursue its own to the extent that it preservation and turn away from its mission represents God and as a house for the follows the purpose of eternal invisible church. Hope binds all the the invisible church. members of the invisible church together and, if remembered, can do the same for the visible church despite its forgetful nature. One might wonder now whether the visible church has the same purpose as the invisible church, given the many differences from the invisible church. False teachers, from the Donatists against whom St. Augustine argued to those who cited the Bible in support of racial discrimination, have plagued the visible church. In the course of college education, students become painfully aware of the visible church’s faults. Despite this flawed human nature, the visible church retains the purpose of the invisible church across the broad sweep of history. Jesus assures that the invisible church will survive when He states that “on this rock I will build my church,
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and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”18 The invisible church will always subsist in visible churches since Christians, as humans, require social structure to support their faith. The visible human organization in which the invisible church is housed will always be flawed – lacking perfect unity and holiness, straying from its purpose of supporting Christian belief. For the visible church to maintain its purpose, the invisible church must indwell and guide the visible church. “The Nicene Creed,” The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2007) 358-359. Web. <http://library.episcopalchurch.org/sites/default/ files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf>. 2 1 Corinthians 12:12. All scripture quotations come from the New Revised Standard Version. 3 Pope Paul VI. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.” Lumen Gentium. Documents of the Vatican II Council, 21 Nov. 1965. Paragraph 22. Web. 29 Jan. 2013. 4 “Subsist.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. 5 The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2007) 327. 6 Ephesians 2:20. 7 Luke 1:2. 8 Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A GreekEnglish Lexicon. Ed. Gregory R. Crane. (Medford, Massachusetts: Tufts University, 1999) Web. 24 Dec. 2013. 9 Melanchthon, Phillip. “The Apology of the Augsburg Confession.” The Book of Concord. Ed. Theodore G. Tappert. Trans. Jaroslav Pelikan (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959) 170. 10 Hall, Douglas John. Thinking the Faith. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg, 1989) 14. 11 Galatians 1:18. 12 Ephesians 4:4, 6. 13 Ephesians 1:5; 1 Peter 2:9. 14 Book of Common Prayer 374. 15 Philippians 3:11. 16 Mitchell, Donald. Gustav Mahler: The Wunderhorn Years. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1975) 416. 17 Luther, Martin. “The Small Catechism.” The Book of Concord. Ed. and trans. Theodore G. Tappert. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959) 345. 18 Matthew 16:18. 1
Stephen N. Lee ‘14 is from Delran, New Jersey. He studies computer science and music, plays violin in the St. Olaf Orchestra, and works for the computer science program.
Freud’s Illusion and Bonhoefferian Grace By Paul Escher
igmund Freud once wrote that the idea of religion is “born from man’s need to make his helplessness tolerable.”1 The famed psychologist’s statement is analogous to a popular contemporary view of religious belief: religion is a consoling crutch, developed by primordial man only to give satisfactory explanations for natural phenomena, and is now used as an easy way to counter difficult and uncomfortable questions in life. Such a view is admittedly justified in individual cases. In contemporary religious devotion, many people cling to their faith as a one-size-fits-all explanation for tragedies or an assurance that they will see their dearly departed once more in the afterlife. This kind of faith costs its followers little if anything in terms of sacrifice. However, with Bonhoeffer’s costly grace in mind, it becomes clear that regardless of whether Christianity’s claims about reality are objectively true, authentic Chritianity demands too much of its followers to serve as a mere emotional crutch. In a nutshell, the above analysis views religion as nothing more than a construct stemming from man’s desire to be comforted in the face of uncertainty. In early history, this desire manifested itself in gods who controlled weather, natural disasters, and the like. In more recent years, humans comfort themselves with religious and theological explanations of suffering, the meaning of life, and what happens after death. In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud describes his own version
of this stance: “The gods retain their threefold task: they must exorcise the terrors of nature, they must reconcile one to the cruelty of fate, particularly as shown in death, and they must make amends for the sufferings and privations that the communal life of culture has imposed on man.”2 The gods symbolize religion throughout the ages as human’s efforts to explain their own anxieties. Freud suggests that another purpose for religion is to create a reason for hope. Believers feel secure because they think “Over each one of us watches a benevolent… Providence, which will not suffer us to become the plaything of the stark and pitiless forces of nature.” Believers childishly take solace in that idea that somehow “in the end all good is rewarded, all evil punished,” either in this life or in a supposed afterlife. In other words, as Freud contends, “we shall tell ourselves that it would be very nice if there were a God who created the world and was a benevolent Providence.”3 Believers desire the protection and security their parents provided when they were children, and through this wish, they willingly embrace a delusion—God.4 Freud’s view of religion as a juvenile reaction to anxiety suggests that religion is an easy cure-all for those who do not wish to confront their fears of the unknown. Atheist activist Dr. Richard Dawkins contributes to this argument in his book, The God Delusion. He asserts that consolation is one of the driving forces behind religious belief. Dawkins writes that “people caught up in a terrible disaster… frequently report that they derive consolation
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from the reflection that it is all part of God’s inscrutable plan: no doubt good shall come it in the fullness of time.”5 For Dawkins, such consolation is ungrounded and serves only as a false comfort. Many people of great influence and intellect view religious belief as an infantile emotional defense mechanism, nothWith Bonhoeffer’s costly grace ing more a way in mind, it becomes clear that than of seeking regardless of whether Chris- order in disand tianity’s claims about reality order meaning in are objectively true, authen- chaos. The tic Christianity demands too accuracy of this assertion much of its followers to serve for those of as a mere emotional crutch. C h r i s t i a n confession depends on what Christianity really teaches. Christianity at its core is a religion that places a great deal of emphasis on the salvific grace of God. This grace is a pure gift from God, utterly unmerited and given solely out of love. Such a free gift from a benevolent God would seem to be exactly the type of anesthetizing solace Dawkins and Freud describe. But the nature of Christian grace is costly; as such Christianity cannot simply be a crutch for the believer. Twentieth-century Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer identifies two primary ways to understand grace. The first, identified as “cheap grace,” exists as “the deadly enemy of our church.”6 Defined, it is “grace without price; grace without cost” and “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross.”7 One accepts the gift of God’s forgiveness, but does not acknowledge the cost of that gift, Christ’s suffering on the cross, or the responsibilities that come with such a gift. Bonhoeffer further explains: “Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.”8 In this way, cheap grace practiced allows the believer to reap the benefits of salvation without any other form of repentance. Under cheap grace, “everything can be had for nothing.”9 If cheap grace is the grace of Christianity, then one can easily reduce this religion to the comforting illusion of Freud or the false consolation of Dawkins. If everything can be had for nothing, then believers are not asked to make any visible sacrifice in their lives for illusory solaces; they rush for comfort because it is free
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for the taking. Yet true Christianity is not solely about comfort; it is also about radical self-sacrifice. Bonhoeffer terms this insight “costly grace,” the “treasure hidden in the field.”10 He says, “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow.… because it costs a man his life.… because it condemns sin.”11 Real salvation, true joy, and authentic hope all have their roots in the initial handing over of oneself to the will of God; believers acknowledge that they must conform themselves to the crucified Christ and follow Him unreservedly. The truth of this statement can be seen in the witness of any number of Christians. Francis of Assisi forsook wealth and social status for the sake of the Gospel. Mother Teresa of Calcutta left the security of her convent to serve the poor in the slums of India. Even Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred by the Nazi government for his actions opposing their evils. These believers, often put forward as some of the best historical examples of authentic Christian faith in action, show that Christ not only calls followers to joy and salvation but also to difficult and palpable self-sacrifice. Father Robert Barron, a Catholic priest, blogger and author, also supports costly grace in his documentary series Catholicism, speaking about a toned-down, domesticated version of Jesus: [What a lot of people say today about Jesus] is “Well, I don’t think he’s God, but he’s a very interesting, inspiring religious teacher….” Actually, he’s not. Actually, he’s sort of a dangerous, strange figure. So as he himself said, “Either you’re with me or you’re against me…” He compels a choice the way no other religious founder does....And the minute [Jesus becomes domesticated], then the whole thing falls apart. Jesus was, in his own lifetime and then after the resurrection, a deeply disconcerting figure, a subversive figure.”12
Looking to scripture for answers suggests a similar view. Any honest reading of the Gospels shows that whatever interpretative spin is put on his words, Jesus sets up his followers for discomfort and personal conversion. The following passage illustrates this truth well: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”13
The passage rules out cheap grace, or grace without the cross, because Christ’s followers are told to take up their cross daily. One is left with Bonhoeffer’s costly grace as the grace of authentic Christian faith, impli-
cating that believers are not simply reaching for easy consolation. The critique of Freud and Dawkins does not hold. Even if mistaken, Christianity is not an easy, childish retreat from the world’s anxieties. Consolation does indeed come, but only after suffering and the cross. Believers must understand that they will face many trials for following Christ before they receive heavenly rewards. Even with the hope of eternal bliss in heaven, this faith is not some sign of psychological immaturity, as Freud argues. Rather, the believer’s acceptance of costly grace requires the maturity to accept a profoundly uncomfortable and demanding life. One does not run to Christianity to escape reality. Instead, the believer embraces a way of life that ultimately leads to honest self-assessment, self-sacrifice, and a realistic analysis of whether one’s faith and reason are enough to sustain such a risk. While costly grace is not an assurance of the factuality of Christianity’s beliefs, it invalidates the depiction of Christianity as a simple emotional defense mechanism. Christianity is a source of consolation and hope in the face of tragedy. Bonhoeffer writes “It is grace because it gives a man the only true life…. It is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’”14 This true life gives the believer authentic joy. According to the old maxim attributed to St. Augustine and repeated in recent years by Pope John Paul II, “We are the Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song!”15 At the same time, the Christian acknowledges the need for a complete reordering of their life to Christ. Christianity cannot be a simple escape or crutch to which critics
reduce it. Therefore, in no way is believers’ emotional solace a shallow or an immature delusion—indeed, it “costs them their lives.” I would like to express my profound thanks to Dr. Edmund N. Santurri and the Very Rev. Mark R. Pierce, without whom this essay would not have been possible. Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1949), 31. 2 Ibid., 30. 3 Ibid., 32-33. 4 Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., The Question of God (New York: The Free Press, 2002), 43. 5 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: First Mariner Books, 2006), 398. 6 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 43, 45. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid., 43. 10 Ibid., 43, 45. 11 Ibid., 45. 12 Catholicism, Matt Leonard (2011, Chicago, IL: Word on Fire Films, 2012), DVD. 13 Luke 9:23-24, NRSV. 14 Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 45. 15 John Paul II Quotes, GoodReads, accessed May 22, 2013, <http://www.goodreads.comquotes/245044do-not-abandon-yourselves-to-despair-we-are-theeaster>. 1
Paul Escher ’16 is a religion major from La Crosse, WI. He enjoys running on the St. Olaf cross country and track teams.
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THEY LOST TEMPER WITH FAITH Three days it had not moved From the mudded roadside gut where the whip licked it down. They beat faith with smelted anger because it lagged and its hide sagged into its bones. A near dead thing now, with a nose cracked like paint on a window frame. They tried standing it up on its hooves one wanting to blind it with one last hit another curling his back under the stomach the last swinging. It bowed like stiff dough from their frame head and hind dripping towards the earth They became arrows that could never be shot. Jennifer Sanders â€™13
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UNLESS TO SEED flowers do not die, but curl into birthing the ones that wilt or shiver in heat of the dew are not the widows but the brides, overcome Jennifer Sanders â€™13
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Noah Sanders â€˜13 is from Brentwood, TN. He studied Studio Art and is currently a fifth year Art Apprentice.
Passover Oil on Canvas
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Transfiguration Oil on Canvas
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The Nicene Creed We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Submissions If you would like to contribute an essay, artwork, or poetry to Avodah, we welcome submissions from any member of the St. Olaf community. We publish work that is in line with our mission as an academic journal of Christian thought. Contact the editors at email@example.com to get involved.