We continue with the Principles of a New Realism (Chapter 8) in Making the Best of It by John Stackhouse. Monday we looked at Mixed Field, Mixed Motives, and Mixed Results. Wednesday we began our look at The Normal … and Beyond. Today we finish that discussion.
The Normal … and Beyond: Steering Societies, Converting Communities, Improving Individuals. (Continued)
We concluded the last post by noting the difference between making ethical decisions based on unwavering adherence to ethical prescriptions (deontological ethics) and making choices in an effort to maximize shalom (consequentialist ethics). Stackhouse embraces the latter … as do I with some trepidation. Having said this, Stackhouse identifies four considerations we must deal with as we reflect on these issues.
1. “The first consideration is to observe where are in the Christian Story.” (275) We do not live in Jesus’ day and we do not live in the New Jerusalem. Stackhouse takes theologians like John Howard Yoder to task here:
There is a willful dismissiveness of 2,000 years of church history. We are apparently in this for the long haul. Stackhouse is also critical of characterizing the emergence of Christendom with some “… grotesque deviation from authentic Christian mission …” Christendom was the natural result of mission. The state was merely the last social domino to fall. Did this raise a whole new set of challenges? Absolutely! But it was not a departure from the mission of the church.
One of the charges I hear made against fundamentalist Christians is their tendency to absolutize behaviors they believe are taught in the Bible (ex. Women don’t preach) without consideration for the distance of 2,000 years and changing culture. Yet some of these same critics want to absolutize the posture the NT church (i.e., Christ vs. Empire) as the absolute culturally-transcendent posture for relating to culture. That was then … this is now. I believe there are different postures and responses for different culture contexts.
2. “The second consideration therefore is to recall the creation commandments and the redemption and the redemption commandments, and their relation to each other.” (278) Too many Christians opt to obey the redemption commandments only. We are to work for the greatest shalom possible as we obey the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commandments.
Here again, he is critical of the Anabaptist attempts to disassociate with worldly powers (ex. Yoder, Hauerwas, Willimon). They will argue that the greatest shalom can be created by being a witness separate from the powers. Stackhouse writes:
He offers the last two considerations as his rationale.
3. “The third consideration, then, is to return to the Christian Story to witness God involved in violence, deception, and other contraventions of “normal” morality.” (279) Stackhouse lays out several instances in Scripture where such actions were engaged in by God or God’s people. He grants that we do not find instances of this concerning the apostles but it is also true that the biblical record does not recount events where the apostles were placed in extreme ethical dilemmas akin to the SS officer hunting Jews at our door . Thus, the only argument here is one from silence. The holiness of God, in ways that may seem mysterious to us, somehow incorporates these actions.
4. “This fourth consideration is the distinction between God’s work and ours, between what is proper only to him and what we are to do in resemblance to, and in cooperation with, him.” (280) He goes on:
Human beings are not God. We have neither the intellect or the moral wisdom to carry out God’s vengeance in the world. “Yet society does need to be protected, and to be protected by violence – legal, authorized, monitors, and minimal violence but violence nonetheless.” (282) Stackhouse goes on to write:
I quote the following because I believe this long passage ties much of Stackhouse’s thinking together:
If we do engage in such thorough study and reflection, we will see that we live in a world in which God himself does not nicely avoid difficult decisions that result in violence against his own ultimate ideals. We live in a world instead into which God has thrust us to do his work of cultivation and redemption, and the way he does it sometimes involves dirt and blood. (284-285)
Stackhouse elaborates using Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s dilemma between pacifism and plotting to assassinate Hitler, but I think you get the picture. I’m sure others will challenge Stackhouse's views here, but I found that I strongly identify with this passage.
What do you think?
Next week ... Faith and Faithfulness