The Taser's Edge

Reconciliation vs. Morality?
“The whole thrust of God’s purpose in Christ as executed by the Spirit is to bring men to reconciliation and relationship with God, so that in comparison even moral sanctification becomes a quite subsidiary interest.”

Thomas Smail, Reflected Glory: The Spirit in Christ and in Christians, p. 57

That is, God’s main purpose in Christ is to heal the shattered relationship between human beings and God; being enabled to live morally is of secondary concern in God’s plan.  Not sure if that translation translated anything for you.  The reason I post it is because it is a quite provocative statement, inflammatory in some Christian circles which do seem to reduce Christianity to that moral sanctification.  Stereotypically, “Don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t date girls that do.”  More concretely and realistically, there are plenty of Christian colleges–even real, accredited ones among them–that make you sign off on not dancing, not drinking, not fraternizing with the opposite sex when alone.

My take?  Smail is right.  God surely cares more about healing our broken relationship with God than about whether we like microbrews.  (After all, when Jesus made wine, he made good wine, not more Sutter Home.)  And yet reconciliation with God and reconciliation with other humans are inseparable processes.  They are not two reconciliations; they are one.  If my fellow child of God and I are both being drawn into a healed relationship with God, then our relationships with each other will also experience redemption and healing.

Yes, being reconciled with God can certainly cause friction and even destruction of some relationships.  Yes, the Gospel causes its own offense, and God knows Christians cause plenty more.  Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…a man against his father, and a woman against her mother.”  But if I am not experiencing healing and redemption in interpersonal relationships, then I don’t see how I can possibly believe that God is drawing me nearer to God.  If morality is some separate little (or even big) compartment of our lives, then, rest assured, it is not Christian morality.

Tuesday Reading Roundup

1. A Bit on the Side by William Trevor–A book of short stories by an English writer whom I’ve seen compared to Chekhov in several reviews.  All kinds of “best living short story writer in the English language” stuff.  A few years ago I read his novel, Death in Summer, and I have to say that it was awful.  A mystery with no suspense.  I’m really not sure how to describe what went wrong with that novel.  But I’ve complained about it to a few people, and then Mom told me that his short stories are much better.  This is a Christmas gift from her and Dad.  I own far too many unread books, and thus I work to read books that I receive as gifts.  Part of this is because it bothers me when I gift books to people (as I always do, albeit a little tempered by Holly’s helpful wisdom since we’ve been married), and then they never read them.  So, part of my gratitude for this particular gift is to read it as soon as possible.  Lovely short stories here, giving good evidence that you don’t have to have much plot in order to write something gorgeous.  Little wisps of stories and very nice reading.  Especially nice since the short story format works well with the chopped up bits of time I have to read during the semester.

2. Great Lent: The Journey to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann–Okay, so I haven’t yet begun this book.  Part of Tuesday Reading Roundup is to set the reading plan for the week ahead, and starting this book is on the agenda.  Schmemann is an incredibly well-known and well-respected Orthodox scholar.  He is especially known, at least in Protestant circles, for his work on worship and the sacraments.  Why am I reading it now?  Because Lent is not too far in the future, and I just have never gotten Lent.  Might this year be the year?

3. Mimesis by Erich AuerbachActually, I’ll only be reading the first chapter–“Odysseus’ Scar.”  This is for Introduction to Midrash.

4. Reflected Glory: The Spirit in Christ and Christians by Thomas Snail–The title probably explains as much as I could tell you about this book.  I’m reading it for Jeremy Begbie’s Spirit, Worship, and Mission class.

5. Beyond Companionship: Christians in Marriage by Diana Garland and David Garland–A book for Christian Marriage and Family Across Cultures.  All I would note is that the title is important–“Christians in Marriage” not “Christian Marriage.”  Dr. Acolatse, who is teaching the class, insists that the former is a better choice of words.  That might be a separate post sometime, as I’m not yet convinced that she’s right.

6. Perspectives on Marriage: A Reader by Kieran Scott and Michael Warren–Since mentioning this book last week, I actually did read a couple articles–a history of marriage within Judaism and Christianity as well as articles on specifically Protestant theologies of marriage (as this book seems to be Roman Catholic in perspective) as well as Jewish and Muslim understandings of marriage.  This also needs to lead to a separate post at some point on the issue of a Christian standpoint on gay marriage, one based in the history of church-state relationships with the institution of marriage, a history regarding which I at least had not been aware.

7. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle–As I’m finishing out this time through the work, I’m sure I shall return to it.   Incredibly rich and important, it certainly has earned its status as a classic.

8. Christians Among the Virtues by Stanley Hauerwas and Charles Pinches–You’ll see this a lot from week to week, as it tracks throughought the class I’m taking with Hauerwas this semester–Happiness, Virtue, and the Life of Friendship.

I must say that I’m finishing up this list for the week, it seems a bit daunting.  Losing last Friday to being out of town and today due to the flu is not going to help, either.