17. The Way of Service to the World

One cold winter night, I left my office in Bay Village, Ohio to eat pizza with some volunteers. As I walked into Auburn Hall, expecting to see just a few people, I saw over 200 volunteers in yellow T-shirts eating together, having fellowship, and getting last-minute instructions for a ministry called “Respite.” Several times a year, Bay Presbyterian Church keeps special needs children so that their parents can have a break from caregiving. It takes about 200 volunteers to take care of about eighty children for a few hours. The night is designed to include fun activities, movies, music, and a variety of experiences for the guests. There is a worship time led by young people at the end of the evening. This ministry has been a part of building the reputation of the church as a loving place for children and families.

In my former church in Memphis, there is a retired member who is a wonderful Christian disciple. He is at an age when many people are “slowing down.” This particular person, his family, and his small groups within the church are not slowing down much at all. Instead, he is active in an inner-city ministry led by a congregation in another denomination. Every week, at least once and sometimes more often, he is at the food pantry, the clothes closet, the Sunday feeding, or another ministry to the poor of Memphis. Much of the time, a few other members are with him. Very few, if any, of the persons they serve could make the almost twenty-mile journey to attend our church. Their ministry is an act of love and service to the poor and outcast. Their Christian action is a witness to Christ to every person who experiences or knows of the ministries.

We have already had the opportunity to share that post-modern people are cynical. They are cynical about religion in general and Christianity in particular. In such a situation, people are watching to see if we actually live like Jesus, not just talk about him.  This means it is just as important to share the Gospel by deed as to share by word in our culture.

Jesus and Love for the Lost

Jesus did not just preach good news. Jesus was constantly serving others. He healed the physically sick. He cast out demons. He confronted hypocrites. He helped people overcome sin and its effects. He confronted injustice. In Jesus, faith and works were fully-combined in one human life. Near the end of his gospel, Matthew records the following words of Jesus:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matthew 25:31-43).

This parable indicates that a life of discipleship under grace is not a life without responsibilities to serve others. We are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10). God cares what we do after our conversion. In this passage Jesus is speaking to his disciples, as well unbelievers. He is not giving a teaching for those outside the people of God but for those already inside the people of God. [1] He is warning that God expects something from us—to share the self-giving love of God with others, just as Jesus shared that love for us on the Cross. Service to the “least of these” is a critical part of the life of a disciple.

The Call to Care

In the last part of Matthew preceding Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and death, Jesus tells three important stories: the Parable of the Ten Virgins, in which he encourages believers to continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Parable of the Ten Talents, in which he encourages believers to put the gifts, talents and abilities they possess to good use, and the  Parable of the Last Judgment in which he encourages believers to remember that, when he returns, the human race will be held accountable for their actions in this world, and especially their actions towards the least, the lost and the outcast.

In the parable, the time between Jesus’ ascension and return is over. God graciously provides time for the human race to care for his creation and grow in likeness to God. Now, that time is complete. It is time for accountability. Jesus is revealed as the Exalted One, before whom every knee rightfully bows and every tongue confesses (Philippians 2:10-11).  All the people groups in the world appear for a final judgment (25:2). It is time for a review of the actual beliefs and behavior of the human race. And so, Jesus separates the peoples of the world who are massed before him as the shepherd separates sheep and the goats (25:32).

When we think of the final judgment, we think of a court of law. During the trial, evidence is presented by both sides. No one is sure exactly what happened, so there is a lot of testimony to establish the facts. The judge must work hard to decide. He or she must sift through the facts, weigh the evidence, determine who is telling the truth, and the like. At least, that is the way I thought of this parable until I learned about sheep and goats.

In the Holy Land at the time of Jesus, sheep were generally white and goats were black. It was easy to tell them apart. Any listener of Jesus would have known that fact. The image is not one of a difficult decision by a judge hearing testimony and weighing evidence. The decision image is of a judge who already knows the facts deciding. You see, God knows our hearts. He knows what we have done and not done during our time on earth. He does not need to ask a lot of questions or review a lot of evidence. He knows.

Jesus begins by telling the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:34-36). The sheep are those who have done the things that Jesus did while here on earth by loving service to others.

The scene resembles less a judgment in a trial than a reading of a will in a probate court! God is saying to those who behave as his children, “Come right now and collect your inheritance as Children of God.” The sheep, of course, being humble, hardly know what to say, because they can’t even remember what they’ve done and are not sure that they deserve such an inheritance.

Then, Jesus turns to the goats and says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Matt. 25:41-43). These people, right away begin to make excuses: They also answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you” (v. 41).

Jesus answers these excuses with the words, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (v. 45). Once again, God does not need a lot of testimony because God knows. Jesus is saying, “Either you believe and live out the Gospel of Love or you don’t. Either you believe I am God, and try to live as I lived or you don’t. Either you see the world through my eyes or you don’t.”

The World is a Place of Great Need

You see, the world is full of obvious need. There are tens of millions of people, starving, without food, water, without schools, jobs, shelter, adequate income, and hope. There are many people in prison. Those who travel to very poor mission fields see the need in obvious ways in poor nations. But, the need is not just at the end of the earth. There is a lot of need close at hand, right before our eyes. All we must do is read the newspapers, watch TV, look at the Internet, or drive around our city. Everywhere we go, if we open our eyes, we see need. Human need is all around us.

I could pick any city in our nation or around the world, but because we lived in Memphis for a long time, Memphis is a good example. Memphis is one of the poorest cities in America. There are at least 178,000 Memphians who live in poverty. A good many more live pretty close to the poverty line. Fifty percent of workers qualify as “low wage workers”. That is to say, they have family incomes that put them just over the poverty line. These people often have jobs where they do not receive medical insurance and other benefits. Any setback results in poverty.

Despite all the efforts of governments and private charities, over the last few years, Memphis has been getting poorer at a rate of about one percent a year. Poverty in Memphis is not just located in the inner city. Increasingly, it is found in the suburbs. [2] Memphis also has one of the highest crime rates in the United States, and has many citizens in jail or prison. There is a lot of substandard housing. In other words, need is right before the eyes of everyone in Memphis. If you live in a major metropolitan area your city is probably not much different.

Wherever We Go, We See

The problem of human need is everywhere. Wherever we go, we are bound to see it. We can’t say to God, “I’m sorry, I never saw the problem.” Jesus won’t let us off that easy. We just can’t be like the people in the parable who say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” (v. 41). The parable said to those in Jesus’ day, and says to us today, “Don’t believe for one moment that God does not know what we’ve seen and not seen, where we’ve been and not been, what television news we’ve watched and not watched, etc.” God knows everything and is aware of the depths of our hearts. He knows when we are avoiding doing what we know is right. He is not going to let us get away with a lame excuse: “I just never saw it.”

Will we see the World Through the Eyes of Jesus?

The question we face is not “Can we see the world around us through the eyes of Jesus?” but “Will we see the world around us through the eyes of Jesus?” What exactly God calls us to be and to do is largely determined by where he takes us in life. Wherever he takes us, there are needs. Some of those needs involve problems we could, if we would, work on. One of the most important things we can do as Christians is simply be aware of needs around us and respond. In the Parable, Jesus assumes that people see needs and alerts us to the fact that, as God, he is present in suffering love for those in need.

Small Discipling Groups and Mission

One of the most important churches of the 20th century was a small congregation in Washington DC, known as the “Church of the Savior.” The Church of the Savior never had a large membership. It was made up of a series of small missional congregations, which themselves function as churches. Each group had a mission focus. Over the years, the small groups have instrumental in creating, developing, and sustaining many, many important ministries. Its example was so powerful, that there are similar churches and groups all over the nation. Mainline and other churches have studied the Church of the Savior in designing their ministries and missions.

The Church of the Savior was the brainchild of Gordon and Mary Cosby. Gordon Cosby, the founder and pastor of the congregation until his death, was an Army chaplain during the Second World War. By the time he returned home, he had seen how shallow the religious faith of many people could be. He experienced how easy it was for people to behave in non-Christian ways during wartime, and began experiments in discipling the soldiers he served during the war. He also came to believe that the church had failed, not just men whom he served during the war, but also those who remained back home. He dreamt of forming a different kind of church. The church he dreamed of founding became a reality in the Church of the Savior. [3]

Soon after its formation, the Church of the Savior determined to conduct its ongoing ministry through small mission groups. These were originally small groups focused on Bible study and learning about Christian faith and practice. Then, Cosby and the members of Church of the Savior changed their form and intention. The groups at Church of the Savior were groups specifically designed to conduct missions in and around the Washington, D.C. area. These groups formed the core ministry of Church of the Savior for most of the last part of the 20th century. Finally, the Church of the Savior itself became a community of churches.  When Gordon Cosby died, he was lauded by Christians and on-Christians alike for his work. [4]

Building an Action-Oriented Discipleship Strategy.

The founders of American pragmatism famously suggested that, when developing an idea or theory, its truth was to be judged on the basis of its likely practical impacts. Whatever the academic truth of such a theory might be, biblically speaking, there is a great truth in the notion that truth and action are inseparably intertwined. Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life. It was not what he taught that was the truth; he embodied the truth. This means that Christ-followers cannot be content with mere head knowledge, nor is it enough for a disciple-maker to instruct a new disciple by teaching abstract principles of Christian discipleship. In the exact words of the Great Commission, we are not just teaching concepts, we are teaching new believers to obey (Matthew 28:20). Obedience is not a concept; it is an action.

Whenever one learns a skill, one learns some information. However, one cannot learn a skill without watching someone else and modeling one’s actions after theirs. This means that disciple-making programs have to be characterized by “learning while doing” and “doing while learning”. The question is, “How do we learn while doing?”  Here are just a few suggestions:

  • From the beginning of the formation of a discipling relationship, it is important to remember that discipling relationships, whether personal or in a small discipleship group, do not exist primarily for the benefit and comfort of the group or its members. The purpose is to reach the world with the love and wisdom of God. Many small groups forget this fact.
  • In meeting the needs of people, the gospel itself, God’s love for the world and desire to draw people out of selfish, self-centeredness and into a relationship of loving community with God and others remains central. As a friend reminds me often, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” The main thing is faith reaching out in love.
  • Take advantage of opportunities that naturally develop to share God’s love. In other words, since the need for God’s love is all around us, our most effective way of sharing God’s love in tangible ways can be that which is closest to us. This requires keeping eyes open where they might be closed.
  • Although God does equip the willing and often uses us in surprising ways, a good bit of the time, God uses the talents and the gifts we already possess. When confronted with an opportunity to serve others, a good question to ask is, “Am I or my group equipped to meet this need?”
  • The value of planning cannot be overemphasized. Occasionally, under the impact of an obvious need, people and groups impulsively reach out without planning and end up doing something that is counter-productive. The best way to avoid failure is to plan.
  • Finally, the leader of the group must personally be involved for the project to actually promote growth of discipleship. People, like children, do what they see leaders doing, not what leaders tell them they should be doing. Leaders do not have to lead mission projects, in fact it may be counter-productive if they do. However, they do need to be involved.

An Example.

As I was writing he above list, an example from the past came to my mind. Our church had an extensive foreign mission’s program. Unfortunately, only relatively few people could be involved. Over time, members of the congregation felt that we should be doing more local mission. In the beginning, a few people looked at supporting a public school in a distant neighborhood. We began well, but over time the distance and danger of the neighborhood became an impediment to success. We simply did not have the resources to meet the need.

Our church was in an area of great economic disparity. There were affluent areas and areas of poverty. One day, some of our members were passing a nearby elementary school. It was in a very nice neighborhood, and the school was brand new. In the beginning, the group felt it would not be a good idea for us to adopt the school because they didn’t need us. Then, we discovered that the vast majority of the children that attend the school came from a poor area included in the district and were receiving various forms of assistance from the school. Many of the students came from an apartment project near our physical worship center to which we had attempted an outreach, but had been rebuffed by the owner. Therefore, we adopted the school to reach children we had already attempted to reach.

I was a part of a group of folks that had the initial idea for the project. Many of the leaders had been in a discipleship class with me. Therefore, as busy as I was, I volunteered on periodic basis, including some of the situations in which it was difficult to get enough help. Often, I spent the morning of my day off with one or more members of the group, and not infrequently with an elder or other leader of the congregation. These were great opportunities to build on an already existing discipling relationship. [5]

The project was a success. Many more of our members participated. Several small groups under took various projects to help the school in areas as diverse as reading to children, repairing and building facilities for certain programs, participating in science fairs, helping with annual testing, and other activities. We had been concerned that there would be resistance to a Christian organization helping a public school. In fact, there was absolutely no resistance. They were glad to have us. In the process, a few people that ordinarily would not have attended our church began to attend.

This mission opportunity reveals the importance of keeping your eyes open, see the need around you, and being sure you have the right spiritual gifts to meet the need. We did not have the right spiritual gifts to meet the first need, but we did the second. We were far more successful because we chose a need we could meet with the resources we had. In our first project, we had bitten off more than we could chew. In our second project, we met a need we had the ability to meet.


In discipleship, there is an intimate connection between learning and doing. Discipleship is a lifestyle not a course we take in order to graduate. The wise disciple-maker never forgets that fact. In the late 1970s I became a Christian. For most of the 1970s nine and 1980s, I was a lay person in Houston Texas. One thing I did was preach at a homeless shelter in the city. In 1991, I went off to seminary. In seminary, I had a small ministry to seminary students. When I left seminary, I went to a poor town in West Tennessee. On the first day I was introduced to an extremely poor, violent, and drug infested neighborhood. Eventually, we helped begin a community center in that neighborhood with other churches.

Then, I went to Memphis. Eventually, our church became involved in an international mission project called “Living Waters for the World.” The project began in an interesting way. A small group of which I was a member was praying that God would open up the door for us to do a foreign mission in the agricultural area.

One day, a man from another city that I knew slightly called. This was not a person I knew well, and we had been on different sides of disagreements in the past. He asked if our church would help with a mission project called, “Living Waters for the World.”  Be honest, I didn’t really want to get involved. I was unnecessarily afraid becoming involved would harm the project at one of my closest friends wanted to begin. However, I didn’t feel like I should say “No,” and so we invited him to come to our Session and give a presentation. To my great surprise, the Session was enthusiastic, and many people became involved almost over-night.

Our church became deeply involved in the ministry. One of our members, without being asked, gave substantial funds to underwrite many of the expenses. My friend eventually went on and led mission projects in Africa, Mexico, Honduras, and the Philippines. He, his wife, and many other members became national leaders in the ministry and helped train people to install small water treatment facilities. It was a Holy Spirit adventure from beginning to end.

One evening just before dusk, sitting on the top of a small mountain in the middle of Ghana in West Africa, I stood looking at an installation our congregation had just completed. I was thinking about Jesus’ last word, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Suddenly, as I stood looking at that project in the center of a West African nation, I thought to myself, “Son of Gun, you made it.” Chills went through my spine, chills I remember to this very day. God had taken me from Houston to the ends of the earth.

The life of a disciple is to be a life of action. Nothing in this world can be more wonderful and joyful than those moments when we join in God’s mission to the least and the lost with other disciples of the Risen Lord. He may take us a few blocks away or to the ends of the earth.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] This parable is a part of Matthew’s gospel that contains what is often called his eschatological discourses. The section contains a series of stories and parables designed to encourage faithfulness among his disciples, including the lesson of the fig tree (24:32-35) and the description of faithful and unfaithful servants (vv. 36-51),

[2] Eyewitness News, January 20, 2008. www.myeyewitnessnews.com/news/local/Memphis-Povery-Level-Rises (March 17, 2010); Poverty Rate Up in Shelby County www.commercialappeal.com/news/2008/aug/27 (March 17, 2010).

[3] The story of the formation of Church of the Savior is told by Elizabeth O’Connor in her Book, Call to Commitment (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1963). My trip to see the Church of the Savior, meet Gordon Cosby, and tour the school of servant leadership that Church of the Savior created as well as many of their ongoing ministries was a highlight of my pastoral life.

[4] This essay is not the place to tell the entire story of the Church of the Savior, which in any case would take a historian with a great deal more talent and time than I possess. For those who wish to know more and study the church and its ministries more deeply, a good place to begin is Call to Commitment, previously cited. However, Call to Commitment is only one of many books and monographs published about Church of the Savior. There are also a wealth of articles and other information about the church, some of which is available on its website.

[5] It is important to note that I did not attend every event or every weekly program. That would have been too much for my schedule. But I did attend when asked and available to show support and build relationships.

A Politics of Love

Last week, I concluded this blog concerning the violence of our society, which is endemic to the notion of “politics and business as war” that dominates so much of the actual leadership of institutions in our society, with a call to a “politics of love.” This week, I hope to expand more deeply concerning what I meant by a “politics of love.”

The Big Nature of Love

Because English has only one word for love, it is often hard for people to rid themselves of the romantic connotations of the term. There is a Greek word, “Eros,” used to describe romantic love. Eros is a love driven by the desire of the lover. C. S. Lewis, in his book “The Four Loves” refers to “Eros” as a need love—the erotic desire is to fulfil a lack in the lover and a desire for the beauty of what is loved. [1] I call eros an “evoked love,” because it involves something in the object of our love that draws us to the person or thing we love. We can desire a person, a painting, a kind of knowledge, better health, and a number of goods that fill a need in us.

There are, however, other forms of love—and these forms of love are just as important for a sound political life. For example, if on a purely biological basis, eros is foundational to family life (for without the natural desire males and females possess to reproduce there would be no families), out of family life there emerges another love— “philios” or “philia,” literally “brother or sister love.” [2] Philios broader than just that love between brothers and sisters, for it includes the love among family members. It is also used to describe relationships that do not involve genetic connection. Men and women both describe close friendships using these words. Church members often use this word to describe the relationship of mutual belonging within the family of God. Soldiers use this term as describing the relationship among them, immortalized in our time by the book and series, “Band of Brothers.” [3] Therefore, we might call this word, “Common Relationship Love.” Interestingly, the Greeks felt that this love was a higher and more important love than eros, which can too frequently be characterized by a passion beyond reason, as every lover has experienced.

Another of the four loves is “Storge.”  This love is a natural form of affection experienced between family members. When I teach on this love I describe storge as that kind of love that couples have for one another after many years of marriage, when years of familiarity and commitment have bred acceptance, commitment and a deep affection. This love is also commonly seen between parents and their children, and children for their parents, especially as the relationship grows and matures in adulthood. Interestingly, storge was also used to describe a sense of patriotism toward a country or allegiance to the same team. If I love the group I work for or the country I live in, storge can be used to describe that love.

Finally, there is agape. C.S. Lewis refers to agape as “gift love.” Agape is highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of “universal loving kindness” in Buddhism. [4] In Latin, agape it is translated “charitis,” from which we get our word, “charity.”  The term “gift love” used by C.S. Lewis points to the difference between eros and agape: Eros is a love evoked by something in the beloved that the lover needs., agape is a love as an act of the lover. This is not a love evoked by desire but bestowed upon its recipient.

The word ‘agape” was used before Christians began to use it for the love of God. Agape describes a limitless, vulnerable, self-giving love. Agape is the word used in the Bible when it says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The love of God patiently bears with us, even as we presume upon the mercy of God. The love of God endures our sin, our shortcomings, and our brokenness, as the Spirit works patiently and in love to redeem and restore.

In Christ, Christians believe God serves the greatest need of human beings and creation by emptying himself of overt power in order to create the world as an independent entity and redeem what he has created in an act of sheer self-giving passion. God gives himself without limit, without restriction, without any holding back for the sake of his creation. [5] This kind of love is necessary to undergird freedom, because this love does not seek overt control, but nurtures the object of love without the exercise of overt power.

As the Apostles, New Testament writers, and early Christians meditated on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, they came to understand Jesus as God in human form—embodied agape in human form. There is a technical word for God’s willingness to serve creation at its deepest point of need. The word is kenosis, which means “to empty.” It comes from the words of Paul:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8, NIV).

In the older translations, the phrase “made himself nothing” (ekenosen) is translated “emptied himself.” This is the classic testimony to God’s self-giving nature. Agape is a love that empties itself for the beloved as a pure, selfless, unearned, and underserved gift.

Love and Political Reality

It would be easy to simplistically conclude society needs to be founded on selfless agape love, but that is not what is meant by saying that we need to have a politics of love. It is also not realistic. All the loves are to be found in a healthy society, and the absence of any of the loves indicate a flaw or weakness in a culture.

What can be missed is that all the different kinds of love are directed toward the formation and maintenance of a community or relationship. All the loves are personal, and bind persons with each other, an object, or an institution. The marriage of lovers, the family that begets children, the community that is drawn together for mutual defense, the business that draws people together as a community for economic reasons, the government that draws people together for their own common interest, all these must be both founded and nurtured and sustained by all of the loves. All the loves erase barriers and create community.

There is one other love in Greek that is important to what I am saying, “pragma,” or what we might call “pragmatic love.” In the Greek it is translated, “longstanding love.” This is a love that compromises to help the relationship work over time, shows patience in failure, defeat and disappointment, and tolerates the differences among people for the common good of a family or community. Pragma recognizes that society requires its members to be patient and to be loyal, even when there are times of stress. [6] Pragma is pragmatic in the sense that it accepts the other and nurtures the other in order to maintain a relationship of worth to the lover.

For a community to exist over time, there must be pragma—and it is pragma that is so obviously lacking in our public debates today. The riots in our cities over the imperfections of our society, the nit-picking of political parties over feigned differences, the constant criticism of imperfections in our leaders, the intolerance showed on our college campuses and other places for differing views, these and other problems reflect a lack of pragma: of tolerance, faith in the ultimate victory of the best opinion in a public debate and other “love virtues” of a free society. These virtues need to be recovered, renewed, and reestablished at the center of our public life.


The kind of love required in politics is a love that desires, seeks, and is committed to the lover’s (citizen’s) fullest development by acting in such a way as to result in the best development of the community of which the lover (citizen) is a part and those who are part of that community. It is a love that recognizes the social nature of human beings and seeks the fullest community possible under the circumstances, even at the cost of secondary goods for the lover (citizen). Finally, as one sees in times of war, it is a love that is willing to suffer to secure the best interests of the lover (citizen), the community, and its members.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (San Francisco, Harper Collins, 1960).

[2] This is not the place to discuss emergent phenomenon, but the notion embedded in this statement is important to understand. Modern science is reductive—it attempts to reduce everything to matter and force. In the case of community life, it is tempted to reduce all human lives to forms or eros. This is an error. The other loves emerge as self-existent realities with properties that cannot be reduced to a lower form. Agape cannot be “reduced” to a form of eros. In fact, from a Christin perspective one might be tempted to say that eros emerges as one of the created forms of agape, the love of God.

[3] Stephen L. Ambrose, Band of Brothers (New York, NY: Simon and Shuster, 1992-2001). There is also a PBS series taken from the book.

[4] Roman Krznaric, “The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life)” in Solutions Journalism ( December 28, 2013), downloaded June 19, 2020, at www.yesmagazine.org/health-happiness/2013/12/28/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life/,

[5] See, W. H. Vanstone, Love’s Endeavor, Love’s Expense: The Response of Being to the Love of God (London, UK: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1977). See also, John Polkinghorne, ed, The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 2001) for a deep analysis of how creation reflects the One who is love and became love incarnate to redeem and restore his handiwork.

[6] See, Krznaric, previously cited, who outlines this love in his article.

Are We Witnessing the End of a “Nietzschean” Age?

If you are like me, you watch the nightly news with a sense of horror and foreboding. The riots on the streets, the antics of nihilist anarchists, the tactics of the Marxist left seeking the ever illusive “end of history” and institution of a proletarian dictatorship, the complicity of left-wing politicians, and worst of all, the egging-on by the liberal media, without the slightest reflection on where this is all heading. For those who want to know the end-game of all this, my suggestion is that the end game will not be not pretty—or what its proponents desire.

When I was a young lawyer, I worked for a time with one of those brilliant people who work by day in a practical job, but whose sheer mental ability drives them to a deeper thought pattern. I was a young and inexperienced Christian reading my Bible. He was a mature lawyer reading a history of the French Revolution. The Enlightenment, with its hostility to religion, began in France among a group of philosophers, the most famous of which was Voltaire. They envisioned a perfect, humanistic state. They created a dictatorship in which thousands died in an orgy of madness. The result was not a perfect state, but a perfectly demonic state. What finally emerged was not a paradise of reason, but Napoleon.

If American intellectuals, left-wing politicians, and the plutocrats that control much of our wealth are wise, they will take a break from radical politics, political calculations, and cultural accommodation and study the French Revolution. Those that egged on the French mob were ultimately destroyed by the mob. This same kind of senseless evil was characteristic of the 20th century, from Lenin, to Hitler, to Mao, and beyond. Venezuela is the latest example.

There is a kind of naïve utopianism that discounts human brokenness and our capacity for evil, that believes that a different sort of ruler (me or my group) would mean change for the better, and that impatient for change. In the case of modern revolutions, people seek a secular Messiah who will usher in a golden age of peace and plenty, but most often get Stalin. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matthew 18:7, KJV).

Will to Power

As I have mentioned in this blog before, it is characteristic of modern political science to be consumed by politics as the acquisition and use of power, as John Milbank notes in his book, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. [1] Contemporary politics and political thinking are dominated by two underlying political ideologies in which this endeavor manifests itself: first in what might be called “materialistic, laisse faire capitalist liberalism,” and second in “Marxist dialectical materialism.” In the end, both extremes see politics and economics as subject to universal rules of reason that act in the material world without reference any transcendental moral or religious ideal. Both ideologies are fundamentally materialistic and tend to discount moral and spiritual values as important to political or economic life

The philosopher Nietzsche instituted a program of seeing all moral claims, and all truth claims as simple bids for power, a program that finds its current home in deconstructive social theory. Nietzsche effectively “deconstructed” the foundations of Enlightenment liberalism, reducing all truth claims, all moral claims, and all aesthetic claims to bids for power. Nietzsche’s hostility towards Christianity as a “slave religion,” reflecting the attempt the weak to gain power over the strong, the “Ubermench” (“overman” or “superman,” who has the vitality to impose his or her will on others) is well known. In practice, the results of Nietzschean thought has inevitably been some kind of Nazism. [2] This Nietzschean notion of the will to power embeds in contemporary politics an innate tenancy towards violence. [3] The truth and reality of this observation is seen in Antifa and in the events in major U.S. cities over the past several weeks.

Will to Healthy Relationality

Over and against the Nietzschean notion of the “will to power” as ultimate, Christians posit that the universe is ultimately relational carrying in its very being the vestiges of the self-giving love of its Trinitarian source. In holding this view, Christian social thinking is consistent with the insights of modern science. If the modern world view is founded on Newtonian physics and its reduction of reality to matter and force, a positive post-modern world view is based on the relativistic and quantum view of reality as ultimately relational and not material.

Beginning with the insides of Einstein and extending into the insides of quantum theory and chaos theory, a picture has developed of the universe as deeply relational. The ultimate reality is not material at all. The fundamental units of our universe appear to be potentialities that exist in fields. These fields, and indeed the universe itself, are deeply related at a fundamental level. Even at a “macro level” (the level of our ordinary life) open systems are so delicate that slight changes in many systems can result in unpredictable and impressive effects (the so-called “butterfly effect.”

Our universe does not seem to be the kind of universe that Nietzsche believed existed. Instead, the universe seems to be a delicate web of relations that must be maintained with a kind of wise and careful honor. One example of this way of thinking is contemporary environmentalism, which flows from an understanding of the way in which the elements of our environment are related and impacted by foolish or uncaring interventions.

A Preference for Peace

Back to Antifa and the nihilistic radicals that are damaging our social fabric. It’s a picture of reality that I am painting is accurate, then human preference should be for peaceful, wise, and careful changes in our political structure over time. Obviously, as in the case of slavery, there are social evils so large and so deeply in bedded into a society that major changes may have to be made. However, most of the time a society is better served by small, incremental changes that maintain social peace. A kind of politics that depends upon ultimately irrational appeals to human prejudice, human fear, and violence in an impatient search for a perfect world is unlikely to produce the kind of social peace and progress that our society, and every wise society, desires.

A Christian view of society views conflict as a symptom of our human brokenness, not a fundamental element in any human society. Love it turns out, that love seen on the Cross, is the most fundamental reality of all—and a reality that can and should be embedded in our social interactions.

We cannot know how the events of the most recent weeks will end. We can hope that our society will step away from the brink and begin the slow process of developing a political process that assumes that love is more powerful than violence and wise decision-making more valuable than shrewdness,  power-seeking, or political victory. If we do, then our society has a bright future. If not, then we shall see….

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason 2nd ed. (Oxford, UK.: Blackwell, 2006). This is a very difficult, postmodern analysis of contemporary social theory, which I am almost loath to cite because I find it so difficult to read and understand. Nevertheless, it is enlightening.

[2] Milbank would not agree with all my conclusions, nor I with his. In my view, contemporary Communist China is a national socialist state masquerading as a communist state. Modern Russia under Putin is clearly a kind of national socialist state, in which very wealthy oligarchs and the state control every element of human life. Milbank believes as do I that Nietzschean nihilism always leads to some form of Nazism. Unfortunately, we see elements of this kind of government in American and Western European society.

[3] Id, at xiii, and chapter 10, “Ontological Violence or the Postmodern Problematic” pp. 278-326

Moral Inversion and America Today

Last week, I sketched out some main points of Michael Polanyi’s Science, Faith, and Society. [1] One aspect of his thought I neglected was his notion of “moral inversion.” This past week, Americans have seen the impact of the way in which the materialistic, power-orientation of our society causes a moral inversion in many people in which terrible acts of violence seem justified to a rootless moral conscience. As last week progressed, we saw nationwide riots, causing unbelievable damage based upon moral outrage concerning the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In the mind of the rioters, and those who have supplied the funds and encouragement for the riots, they are justified as a response to perceived American racism.

In his writing, Polanyi outlines a process he terms “moral inversion,” which he believes is a common characteristic of totalitarian régimes on the right and the left. Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and Communist China all were powered by an extreme moral energy unconnected with any form of traditional morality. Moral inversion, Polanyi believes, is the demonic power behind dehumanizing and violently social movements and the oppressive governments they create. For all the destruction they create, the leaders of these movements they understood themselves utopian visions of the common good. [2] Moral inversion is not limited to totalitarian regimes.

Moral Inversion

What is moral inversion? Polanyi believes that the strong demand for moral perfection characteristic of Christianity, when combined with the materialist reductionism of modern thought that ends in an objective moral nihilism, results in reason and morality that works in a destructive way. [3] In his book, Logic of Liberty, Polanyi describes the phenomenon (speaking of Russian Marxists and German Nazi’s) as follows:

“In such men, the traditional forms for holding moral ideals had been shattered and their moral passions diverted into the only channels which a strictly mechanistic conception of man and society left open to them. We may call this the process of moral inversion. The morally inverted person has not merely performed a philosophic substitution of moral aims by material purposes, but is acting with the whole force of his homeless moral passions within a purely materialistic framework of purposes.” [4]

Human beings are by nature  motivated by moral passions. When by education or training they are denied an intellectual ground for their moral passions, these passions, like a river that has run out of its banks, flow in an uncontrolled flood into whatever channel lies conveniently at hand. In modern, materialistic societies, that channel has been revolutionary action designed to create a new society along strictly materialistic notions. Communism or some form of national socialism has been the preferred channel. The disasters of the 21st Century have been powered by a moral energy resulting from this rechanneling of moral passions in a destructive way.

Moral Inversion and Hypocrisy

There is no critique of Christianity more common than the complaint that Christians are hypocrites—that is to say the Christians do not live up to the high moral ideals of Christ which they profess to admire. This is, of course, true. One only needs to read the Beatitudes to see that Christ upholds a moral standard to which we may aspire, but will not ever obtain. The perfectionistic impulse of Christian faith is responsible for a great deal of the moral progress of Western Civilization. Nevertheless, among those afflicted with a loss of faith, or no faith in moral ideals at all, this inability of Christians to achieve their ideals, can become a breeding ground for moral inversion powered by a feeling that traditional morality is hypocritical. This is made more dangerous by the postmodern charge that all moral claims are merely bids for power.

With the Enlightenment, and its exaltation of critical reason, Christian faith and morals were placed under the dissolving power of reductionistic, critical thinking. The materialism of the modern world, with its reduction of all reality to material particles and forces acting upon that reality eventually led to the critique of Nietzsche, that God  (spirit) was an illusion, that Christianity was a slave religion, and that the Will to Power was the final characteristic of all sound moral reasoning. This leads directly to the terrible irrational immorality of contemporary politics where winning is everything and any action however immoral is justified if it is in furtherance of a moral ideal held by a particular group.

Morality as Preference

The reductionist character of modern thought is seen in the tendency of the left (public morals) and the right (private morals) to reduce and constrict moral thinking to personal preferences. It is a short step from this position to a decision for a single moral good to the detriment of other, seemingly less important moral goods. [5] On the evening news this week, we have seen played out the view that eliminating racism is the supreme moral good, and other moral duties, such as protecting the rights of the accused to a fair trial, the duty of the prosecutors to investigate carefully before bringing charges, the rights of businesspersons to their property and businesses, the rights of the public to safe streets, etc. can and should be abandoned in the search for one single moral good. [6]

A Society Characterized by Moral Inversion is Unstable

It should be obvious that the views of Antifa, the violent looters, and the media egging them on are incompatible with the freedoms they purport to be advancing. A society built on terror will simply be a terror to everyone, good, bad, rich, poor, powerful, and powerless.  I was able to travel in Russia just after the fall of Communism. Communism was physically, morally, and spiritually impoverishing to everyone. What we see playing out on the streets of our cities in America is exactly the phenomena that lead to millions of deaths under Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pot Pol, all of whom played upon the moral sentiments of their people and created unmitigated horror and suffering for all.

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit my parents grave in the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Springfield Missouri. Just across from their urn is a bronze copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. One single line caught my eye:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. [7]

As I stood at my father’s grave and pondered his leaving home for World War II, and the sacrifices he and my grandfather made in the defense of our freedom, the words “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain” rang through my mind. If we do not defend freedom and a free society in our time—not parts of it, but all of it—then our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, and all those that preceded them, who sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy will have been in vain—and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people will perish from the earth.

The moral outrage of the left, and the constant charge of “Nazism” against those who resist them betrays the deranged nature of their thinking. As I reminded a friend this week: from the beginning of the Trump Inauguration, the violence, the burning of cars in Washington, the deceitful bringing of charges that were privately known to be untrue against the President and his administration, the fiasco of the impeachment, the dishonesty of the Justice Department and other agencies, the conniving of the last administration instead of organizing a peaceful and honest transfer of power,  the refusal of college campuses to allow Christian and Conservative thinkers to speak, even the trivial fact that my neighbor can safely wear her Biden button in public, but other friends are in physical danger if they wear a “Make America Great Hat,” are telling. These, are not the acts of people who love our country and are seeking to maintain its institutions. They are the actions of a twisted and inverted morality, lacking in a moral ground and acting with an unhinged passion. They are the actions of New Brown Shirts and their morally bankrupt leadership.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Science Faith and Society: A Searching Examination of the Meaning and Nature of Scientific Inquiry (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1946).

[2] D. M. Yeager, Confronting the Minotaur: Moral Inversion and Polanyi’s Moral Philosophy http://www.polanyisociety.org/TAD%20WEB%20ARCHIVE/TAD29-1/TAD29-1-pg22-48-pdf.pdf (downloaded June 1, 2020). This is article is a critical examination of the Polanyi’s ideas.

[3] This is not the place for me to outline the long line of moral reductionism that ends in a Marxist denial of any morality unconnected to material process. Nor is it the place to discuss the movement of the Enlightenmnet towards nihilism, first fully exposed by Nietzsche and his concept of the Will to Power. Suffice it to observe that modern Western Society, lacking a transcendent faith in the reality of moral values has entered a period of moral nihilism, that can impact even those who deny that they accept it. The power orientation of our culture is a part of its plausibility structure. See,  Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1991)

[4] Michael Polanyi, The Logic of Liberty (Indianapolis Indiana, Liberty Fund, 1998), 131.

[5] The Christian author, C. S. Lewis speaks of this tendency for contemporary people, to discount the vast interlocking web of morality, which he sometimes calls the Tao, to exalt one moral principle to the detriment of the moral law as a whole. On the right, this has led to a preference for public morality, and on the right a preference for private morality. See, David Rozema, Lewis’s Rejection of Nihilism: The Tao and the Problem of Moral Knowledge” in  Pursuit of Truth | A Journal of Christian Scholarship http://www.cslewis.org/journal/lewiss-rejection-of-nihilism-the-tao-and-the-problem-of-moral-knowledge/ (September 28, 2007, downloaded June 4, 2020).

[6] I do not by this want to be seen as not believing that moral protest against racism is wrong. It is not. I also do not minimize the activities of political opportunists and terror groups that may have contributed to the problems we are currently experiencing. These groups use the moral inversion of others for purely selfish purposes.

[7] Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address” November 19, 1863.