Theology: May 2007 Archives

For several years, the students in a local campus ministry had me give seminars at their fall retreat. I think I ended up giving four or five different ones over as many years. Since I don't have a lot of time to post much this week, I thought I'd post my notes for one of these seminars. I've been wanting to put those notes online for a while now anyway. This was a talk on how to deal with the tension between the unity and diversity among Christians, designed primarily for an audience of Christian college students. The seminar was on October 19, 2002, about a year before I started a blog. I have left everything as it is in my notes, except one typo fix and one brief note toward the end about a section that appears to me missing (but probably never existed).

Four issues about unity and diversity will haunt us as we look through this:

A. Differences in belief in practice
B. Differences in ability or gifting
C. Differences of race, ethnicity, or other cultural issues
D. Different campus groups or local churches

What does unity look like when people disagree about the Bible’s teachings and how we should live? How does it work with different strengths and weaknesses? How can we seek unity across social barriers or cultural walls? What do we do on campus with different Christian groups, and what about local churches?

The first thing is to look to God’s word. We can see some things in the process and come back to anything else after looking at some passages. I have some thoughts on these below, but we might leave some things for a discussion time.
My second cousin Danny Pierce has put together some of his reasons for being a premillenialist. I'm an amillenialist, but I'm open to a premillenialism like the kind he advocates.

A little while ago, Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy wrote a brief but interesting review of the new Tolkien novel The Children of Hurin. One statement stood out to me as especially interesting:

The story also emphasizes Tolkien's view (perhaps influenced by his experiences in World War I) that waging war against evil often requires time and patience, avoiding both premature defeatism and premature large-scale offensives.

I don't know whether this is accurate to Tolkien's intent, but I thought the ensuing discussion in the comments was very helpful in terms of why he takes Tolkien this way. But what's perhaps more interesting to me is that this seems like a perfectly normal use of the word 'evil', one that assumes nothing in particular about the metaphysical or moral content of the term. Speaking of fighting against evil in this sense does not involve any assumption about some force of evil in the world, never mind about whether such a thing is as powerful as any good force.

It amazes me how many philosophers I know think that using 'evil' as a noun in this way somehow reveals a hidden Manicheanism or dualism in one's view of good and evil (i.e. the view that good and evil are equally powerful forces). Sometimes the claim is put that President Bush is "ontologizing evil" by using the word 'evil' as a noun in this way, which is philosophical shorthand for the same point. A friend of mine called me up last week for other reasons, but the conversation degenerated to a series of his gripes against some of the views I've argued for on this blog that he'd been holding in for a couple years and had to get out before he leaves town (at least that's what it seemed to me he was doing), and at one point he just couldn't fathom how I could possibly think President Bush is not a dualist of this sort given how often he uses the word 'evil' as a noun in this way.

This kind of abstract language isn't all that uncommon. Are people ontologizing cancer as if it's some all-powerful force in the universe when they say that we're forming a crusade against breast cancer? Are Mothers Against Drunk Driving treating drunk driving as some evil force on the level of divinity if they speak as if they're waging a war against drunk driving? Are politicians ontologizing corruption as some spiritual force as powerful as God whenever they speak of fighting corruption? I don't see how it's any different when it comes to fighting terrorism, fighting terror, or fighting evil. It's a credit to the Volokh Conspiracy readers that no one repeated that meme in the comments.

John Piper recently preached a sermon on the high calling of singleness. Someone wrote to him afterward, asking why anyone should get married if singleness is such a high calling. His response is balanced, careful, and full of wisdom. [hat tip: Justin Taylor]

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