Love of Enemies: The Way of the Cross - book excerpt

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I've decided to post a chapter from the book I am writing on the Atonement. This chapter excerpt "Love of Enemies: The Way of the Cross" deals with how to creatively apply love of enemies in every area of life, from interpersonal conflict to international relations. The intent of the chapter is of course not to exhaustively cover such a wide range of topics which would go way beyond the scope of a single chapter, but instead to lay the ground work for a creative dialog about what love of enemies could mean in our lives and world. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, so let me know what you think in the comments section here. Thanks!

read chapter "Love of Enemies: The Way of the Cross"







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13 Comments:

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read it, and liked it, and grew by reading it. But I have a horrible habit of reading as if I were an editor. I kept some notes on things that seemed to need attention. Hope you don't mind. They're below.

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The Imitation of Christ section is beautiful. The section on the Reality of Evil is deep and rock-solid. But the opening parts before that risk losing the reader. They’re too theoretical (“academic” in the bad sense of distance from life), besides making various tactical and logical mistakes that really are unusual for you.

In the intro:

In the para beginning “Seeing this in myself”. 2 things may need clarification. First is whether desire to condemn is always merely fleshly. It probably is like that in us, but that doesn’t adequately cover the difference between God’s just condemnation of all sin and our own self-serving condemnations of sin in those we dislike and forgiveness of those we love. I’m concerned that skipping over that topic will just leave room for a self-justifier who notices that angle isn’t covered and hides there. Second is the allusion to Peter – myself, I’m not sure which episode in Peter’s life you want to recall.

In the next section, the paraphrase “If we only have compassion for the victim” doesn’t seem to score a bullseye. I’m not saying I can pinpoint what in the content bothers me, but I have trouble imagining Jessus choosing those words, speaking for himself. Other than content, the general approach bothers me, the approach of putting our own words into Jesus’ mouth. The approach doesn’t bother me the other way around (putting words into our own mouths as Bible paraphrases, like “help my lovelessness” – that seemed very beautiful, and how many times have I prayed the same prayer? (Not enough obviously but you take the point.)

“We can indeed choose not to be determined” – I’d question the word choice “determined” there. Where I’m from, “determined” means “of firm purpose” or something like that, not “an unthinking, enslaved link in a causal chain” that seems to be what you mean. Just thinking out loud here, slavery to hatred is one of the things we lose when we actually manage to forgive. And even an obligation to pursue justice can feel like a trap or an enslavement.

Does the very first Gerald Sittser quote have a typo in it? The beginning of the first sentence is hard to follow.

“Overcoming Evil With Good” – you start with Paul Fiddles and “action and submission” and you quickly recognize that he’s not focusing plainly enough on love or blessing. Your work to correct his focus is evident. But love comes across as an afterthought all the same because “action and submission” were the starting point. That section might benefit from some restructuring.

“The Redeemed Imagination” – this section would benefit from living examples of Restorative Justice, living examples of the type that you did with the genocide survivor or the man whose familiy died in the car crash. The section also begins looking as if it will be a political ad for Nonviolent Resistance; I was relieved to see it wasn’t, but the first sentence still builds that expectation. I also wonder whether your treatment of Bonhoeffer is rigorously fair when it comes to whether he saw all the implications of active resistance in the Sermon on the Mount. As a side note, I wasn’t quite sure whether you were placing all varieties of “causing hurt” under the umbrella of “evil”; I’d hope not because it leaves God little room for the Last Judgment, or for disciplining us along the way. Full disclosure: I’m not a pure pacifist; I think there are times when refusing military conflict is a morally wrong thing to do. Far outnumbered by the times when initiating military conflict is a morally wrong thing to do, but nobody ever said things would be simple. The part about “nonviolence does not always work / violence does not always work” is true as far as it goes but doesn’t help with the decision on when each is most appropriate … though that may be beyond your intended scope here. The “doesn’t always work” part puts the question forward but then leaves it dangling.

Your quote “love of enemies is about fighting for what’s right” strikes me as questionable (at the very least open to misunderstanding), given your overall thesis that sometimes love of enemies is about forgiving what’s wrong.

Is the “Just Peacemaking Theory” the people who are so enamored of the U.N. and would make the U.N. part of a world ethical theory? We can’t really trust God’s plans to any political entity, no matter how nobly intended. Even a secular humanist should shrink from placing too much faith in an agency with no accountability structure or fixed moral compass.

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Ok, done with long rambling comments. I enjoyed it, and hope the notes I kept as reading don't take away the focus from that. I appreciate how difficult it is to put something like that out in public.

Take care & God bless

 
At 2:26 PM, Anonymous sharktacos said...

Thanks for the feedback WF, I'll try to incorporate it into the next draft. If seems that most of your critiques were about clarity, with the exception of where you say

"The “doesn’t always work” part puts the question forward but then leaves it dangling"

where I seem to not be successfully "bringing you with me" as it were. I wonder if you could elaborate a bit more on where I am losing you in this section so I can improve the arguments there?

 
At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm really glad you're a big enough man to accept what I've put forward as constructive criticism. I was hoping I hadn't offended. What a relief that you're not asking me to leave the board or something. I really enjoyed what you wrote. Lots of people say they're looking for feedback but actually mean they're looking for praise.

On the bit about where you're losing me -- from my POV it's like there's this tantalizing carrot that makes me want to go down another path. When I see "violence doesn't work, but then again non-violence doesn't always work either", I have the urge to get to a white-board, draw a line down the middle, and start talking about times when violence is doomed to fail and times when non-violence is doomed to fail, and (more usefully) times when non-violence is more Christlike (far more common) and times when stopping the offense even it involves violence is more Christlike (far more rare). I guess it's just seeing the unsolved and unexplored dichotomy set out there, it starts me down that path.

In the big picture, I think maybe your point was to get people to acknowledge that "non-violence doesn't always work" is a cheap / lazy / worthless criticism of it because "doesn't always work" cuts both ways.

Don't know if you have any plans on going exploring the two sides, but the one sentence does make it sound like it's heading for: "the logical path would be to consider when each would work" (followed by thoughts on that).

Take care & God bless

 
At 2:00 AM, Anonymous sharktacos said...

Hey WF I just updated the paper with a major revision addressing many of the issues you brought up. Let me know what you think.

 
At 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, that's much smoother. I think you must have reworked some of the other parts too because the general flow seems cleaner. I probably got more out of it this time than I did last time.

Various little nits that I'm sure you can work out on your own: spelling, typing, occasional grammar (some run-ons, some fragments). Btw you over-use "but" as a transition; I do the same thing myself. But in general I don't want to go down that road, it's not what I'd consider constructive feedback.

Here are the 3 things I'd offer up as constructive feedback yet. I think #3 is the most constructive.

1) There were very rare occasions where the tone slipped from the usual high mark of “fellowship with the reader in the pursuit of holiness” to lecture/academic. The first sentence of The Depth of Pain loses the usual tone. Likewise there’s a paragraph in Overcoming Evil with Good (“In general we can say …”) where it loses your usual tone for a brief while.

2) The parts on restorative justice were definitely easier to follow. I have some background knowledge of restorative justice from articles I've read. I wonder what results you'd get if you bounced the idea off a few people in conversation to see if they've ever heard of it. I suspect that if your audience is general readers, there won’t be any background familiarity with what exactly is involved in a “restorative justice” program. I expect your write-up could benefit from a living example. (“Sarah met the man who had murdered her son. … For the first time, the prisoner saw himself as someone who had hurt someone else -- a real person, instead of seeing himself as the victim. … As Sarah saw the pain in his eyes, hatred struggled with a growing compassion ... “ etc.)

3) Do you want to make a contribution to the modern study and practice of Love of Enemies beyond highlighting the idea and cataloging a small set of existing applications? Then I double-dog dare you to keep a notebook of all the slights and offenses you receive in a week and work through the "creative imagination" phase of how to love our enemies. Then include the results in the chapter, naturally. It will help your readers with the "creative imagination" phase, and it could be a ground-breaker for moving the Imitation of Christ forward in our age.

Take care & God bless
WF

 
At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. there's one place -- I think it's late in "Imitation" -- where there are a ton of Scripture references, and the placement of the all those references inside the sentence disrupts the flow when reading. I'd meant to put that in the "miscellaneous little details that I'm not going to dwell on" section of my last comment, but forgot.

Take care & God bless

 
At 7:02 PM, Anonymous Craig said...

I just came across your site and see that you have some really great insights on the atonement. How did you come to his relational model verses the forensic legal model, which by the way does not hold up to close scrutiny as you so eloquently point out. I am just interested in how others (like yourself) have come to such a mature understanding of the cross, when I thought I was one of the only ones who thought along these lines!

 
At 11:25 AM, Anonymous sharktacos said...

Hi Craig,

I came up with the "relational model" as opposed to a legal one because of my experience as a born again Christian. People talk about having a "personal relationship with God" and say that "Christianity is about relationship not religion". So I took that seriously and found that thinking in terms of relationship was a great way to understand all sorts of things: sin is about a break in relationship, God's nature (Trinity) is relational, humanities purpose is for relationship, love of enemies and all morality is about thinking of ourselves not as isolated but in relationship.

So I took that, plus the basic understanding I had (and I think most Evangelicals have) of the cross as being about God showing his incredible love for us through giving his life for me, and I tried to put all of that down on paper.

How about you, what's your story?

 
At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Craig said...

Hi Sharktacos,

I like how you define the plan of salvation in terms of a relationship. God is our Father, and we are his wayward children. God is seeking to win his family back to love and trust, while respecting our freedoms to be sure. I know that the Bible defines sin and salvation in many ways. The clearest however is the way Jesus (God Himself) described the gospel. Many theologians like to go to Paul to support a legal model, thinking that Jesus just came to die and pay the penalty and had nothing to say about how God puts us right with Him (notice I used no legal jargon like justification and putting on our account). But I see Paul in full agreement with Jesus. As with the prodigal son the father needed no persuasion to love his runaway son. It was the son who tried appease his father with an acceptance speech, but before the prodigal son could finish his speech the father had his arms around his dirty, smelly son, calling for a celebration because the father felt so good that his son had come home. This is the problem with our human nature, we feel that we have to fix our problems (appease others) and we doubt the truth about God's unchanging love for us. The prodigal son had more to learn about his father's love, but at least he had come home. The other son just could not accept such a gracious and forgiving father. The view of the "obedient" son was that payment must be made, justice must be meted out (sounds familiar doesn't it).

As far as my story goes, I just began asking questions and reading the Bible for myself. I asked myself questions like why did Jesus have to die for me? How does the cross really save me? The old traditional response did not work for me. I saw the Father and Son working together for my salvation, and not one member of the Godhead working on the other. I began to see what God's love was really like, and what sin is really like-deadly, a suicidal act of the will. God was saving me not from an arbitrarily imposed penalty, but from the deceptive and cruel grip of sin...... Craig

 
At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Craig said...

Hi Sharktacos,

I like how you define the plan of salvation in terms of a relationship. God is our Father, and we are his wayward children. God is seeking to win his family back to love and trust, while respecting our freedoms to be sure. I know that the Bible defines sin and salvation in many ways. The clearest however is the way Jesus (God Himself) described the gospel. Many theologians like to go to Paul to support a legal model, thinking that Jesus just came to die and pay the penalty and had nothing to say about how God puts us right with Him (notice I used no legal jargon like justification and putting on our account). But I see Paul in full agreement with Jesus. As with the prodigal son the father needed no persuasion to love his runaway son. It was the son who tried appease his father with an acceptance speech, but before the prodigal son could finish his speech the father had his arms around his dirty, smelly son, calling for a celebration because the father felt so good that his son had come home. This is the problem with our human nature, we feel that we have to fix our problems (appease others) and we doubt the truth about God's unchanging love for us. The prodigal son had more to learn about his father's love, but at least he had come home. The other son just could not accept such a gracious and forgiving father. The view of the "obedient" son was that payment must be made, justice must be meted out (sounds familiar doesn't it).

As far as my story goes, I just began asking questions and reading the Bible for myself. I asked myself questions like why did Jesus have to die for me? How does the cross really save me? The old traditional response did not work for me. I saw the Father and Son working together for my salvation, and not one member of the Godhead working on the other. I began to see what God's love was really like, and what sin is really like-deadly, a suicidal act of the will. God was saving me not from an arbitrarily imposed penalty, but from the deceptive and cruel grip of sin...... Craig

 
At 3:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liked the chapter. Some of what you have to say reminds me of the writings of George Mac Donald.

 
At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Mac Donald the fantasy writer?

 
At 2:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep! That's the one I mean. I am just reading his book "Discovering The Character Of God" and your writngs just breathe the same kind of spirit to me. Can't really explain why.

 

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