Concluding Remarks on Sophio-Agapism

The paradigm for visualizing the world and human society envisioned the universe as made up of matter and society as made up of isolated individuals, both of which were bound together by forces. In the realm of industry, this meant technology. In the political sphere, this meant human ingenuity put to the service of gaining political and economic power. In the thoughts of Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, and others, there was no inherent limit to the sovereign’s power. In the hands of Nietzsche, this became a recipe for disaster because all that mattered was raw power and the desire to dominate (Will to Power).

American and other political institutions have been powerfully impacted by the Newtonian worldview, a Hobbesian view of politics focused on power and the theoretically unlimited power of the state. Just as under the influence of a mechanical view of the universe, modern thinkers were predisposed to perceive the world as consisting of small units of matter held together or influenced by forces; in politics, this worldview predisposed policy-makers to either extreme individualism or a Marxist-influenced communalism, viewing the core governmental forces as power influenced solely by economic factors, all explicable through scientific analysis. Thus, the 20th Century’s most influential political and economic theories: Capitalism and Marxism.

In recent years, a materialistic model of the world has been superseded by a model that assumes deep interconnectedness, relationality, freedom, and inner sensitivity. By the middle of the 20th century, at least physicists understood that the Newtonian model of the universe was limited and fundamentally incorrect. Today, scientists believe that the world, at its most fundamental level, is composed of disturbances in a wave field, with the result that every aspect of reality is deeply connected with every other aspect. Some scientists even believe that the world is fundamentally composed of information. Whichever view turns out to be correct, the fact remains that matter and forces are not fundamental. In theology, a robust analysis has emerged, suggesting that the world is profoundly interconnected and relationships are more essential than matter or energy. This fundamental view of reality cannot help but impact our view of human beings and society.

The insights of theoretical physics and other academic disciplines into the fundamentally relational nature of reality and the limits of a merely reductive scientific enterprise have been slowly transforming society. A newer “organic model” that sees the universe not as a machine but as an organism or a process is gradually emerging and influencing public life.  As the implications of this new worldview are better understood by citizens and politicians alike, political life and the contours of our politics and political institutions are bound to change, hopefully rationally and peacefully.

The modern world is dying, and something new is emerging. What we call “Post-modernism” is only the beginning of the change and might be better called “Hyper-modernism” or “End-stage Modernism.” The descent of modern thought into “hermeneutics of suspicion” and “deconstruction” is fundamentally critical reasoning taken to an absurd end. The inevitable result will be that reason, spiritual values, moral imperatives, and the like will reemerge as essential factors in a wise polity. The vision of the purely secular, materially driven, and scientifically managed state will wither away until it finds its proper place in a more comprehensive human polity.

In its place, hopefully, a newer vision of political reality will emerge – a constructive form of postmodernism. “Sophio-agapism” describes the philosophical proposal defended in these essays. Just as the world comprises an intricately intertwined web of reality, governments will recognize that human politics must begin with smaller units, like the family, and move organically into more comprehensive organizational units with essential but limited powers. The vision of the all-powerful nation-state that controls a territory through legal, administrative, and bureaucratic power will be proved inadequate and false. Whether this happens due to a great crisis and collapse of the current nation-state, world-state visions, or organically, through the decisions of wise leaders, depends on the decisions we all make. One thing is for sure: a wise and genuinely post-modern political order will value dialogue as much as debate and decision.

In this series of essays, I’ve tried to discuss historical pragmatism and the development of the thinking style represented by C. S. Peirce and his successors. In the process, I’ve been attempting to sketch out the contours of a sic approach to political theory and life. Briefly, the essential elements are as follows:

  1. The notion that political philosophy and political action can be reasonable (the sophio move) and serve the common good by understanding a society’s political life, the options for change available, the historical trajectory of that society, and other factors while experimenting wisely among various policy options. This is a turn away from a view of politics as primarily a matter of Will and a return to an older view that politics is mainly a matter of practical wisdom (phronesis).
  2. A communitarian viewpoint that sees all the various participants in society as part of a common community bound together not just by power but fundamentally by a willingness to sacrifice for the community, whose interests must be considered in addition to the selfish interests of individuals that make up that community (the agapic move). In particular, nurturing families, neighborhoods, mediating institutions, and voluntary societies creates social bonds that give stability and restraint to the state’s power and can accomplish goals that state power cannot achieve. Political love is fundamentally a recognition that society is a joint endeavor requiring the cooperative efforts of all participants to achieve human flourishing.
  3. Recovery of the insight that the goal of political life is to achieve progressively greater degrees of harmony among the various participants in any society. A return to viewing social harmony as the foundation of wise and just decision-making is implied by the interconnectedness of the world and the various societies humans inhabit.
  4. Recovery in the public life of the notion that universal values, like justice, are not merely matters of the will of a majority of the wheel or the choice of a single individual or ruling class, but noetic realities. These noetic realities can be studied, internalized, and applied to practical problems and extended in the dynamic process of the political life of a society. This requires the disciplined, fair, and impartial search for such values and their application in concrete circumstances by all the relevant players in society, private citizens, public officials, policy advisors, etc. The kind of moral inversion we see in the West is evidence of the need to recover a sense of the reality of ideals, such as justice—and the importance of their continuing enfolding as a part of a tradition of moral, political, legal, and philosophical inquiry by communities devoted to the unbiased search for justice.
  5. Superseding the dissolving effects of critical reason as the primary source of political thinking with a form of reasoning that involves the logical cherishing of people and institutions within the political life of a society. In modern political theory, Will and Power have become dominant, resting on a substructure of caring for others and institutions. Power alone and the Will to Power do not lead to human or social flourishing.
  6. Developing a sense of limits in public life. The historical trajectory of the political development of any society places limits upon wise and caring change. The history of a society and its trajectory also opens avenues for developing the tradition of which that society is a part. Rather than being revolutionary, sophio-agapism is evolutionary. It believes that the gradual evolution of human society guided by human wisdom and love can create a better future over time. Connected with this insight is a resistance to millenarianism of the left or right, Marxist or Capitalist. Humans cannot achieve a perfect society, but humans can improve upon the society in which they live.
  7. Embracing an abductive (scientific) and dialectical model of political reasoning and behavior that deliberately attempts to find the best rational solution for all involved, seeking the harmony of society as a whole, and resisting political life’s descent into a form of warfare by other means. Reasonable dialogue is essential for societies to recover a sense of mutual respect for differing opinions and a standard search for the best solution among available options.

Both political liberals and conservatives agree that there are fundamental problems in society and the human community. Interestingly, it may be a shared fundamental worldview that is at the root of the decay of public institutions. The idea that the world is fundamentally material and that politics is a matter of power and power alone is a profound source of irrational policies of the right and the left. If the world is fundamentally rational and relational, then all solutions that flow from a purely materialistic view of society—a view shared by extreme capitalist and socialistic theories of government, lie at the root of many of the problems we face and certainly at the root of an increasingly dysfunctional style of politics. The urgency for a new, more relational, and rational government ontology is apparent, emphasizing the potential importance of further developing the philosophical perspective of this series of essays.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

Postscript for Friends:

This week brings to a conclusion a project I’ve been working on for over three years. I want to solicit comments from readers who have managed to make it this far.  A manuscript of somewhere over 300 pages exists, setting out in detail what I mean by Sophio-Agapism and its relationship to the classic pragmaticism of C. S. Peirce as well as the thought of others. Soon, I am sending it off to a professional proofreader and hope to publish it at some future point. In the meantime, I am anxious to hear from readers concerning their views. Blessings to all my friends!

Acts 1:3-13: Together with the Risen Jesus

“After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3)

            Some years ago, the Memphis Commercial Appeal ran a story titled “Most of Us Don’t Expect Resurrection of the Body.” The article began by disclosing that while most Americans identify themselves as Christians, those who identify themselves as Christians don’t necessarily believe in the resurrection. However, the church has always believed in this doctrine, and it is found in every orthodox creed. Every Sunday, all over the world Christians meet together and affirm their faith in the resurrection.

            There are many good books in which the authors defend the Christian faith and the resurrection. To name a few, C. S. Lewis wrote a book titled Miracles defending the resurrection. [1] Josh McDowell compiled a book entitled, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. [2]  The physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne wrote The Faith of a Physicist, in which he makes a scientist’s defense of the resurrection. [3] Lee Strobel, in his book, The Case for Christ, gives a reporter’s defense of the resurrection. [4] It is fundamental to Christian theology and Christian faith that the resurrection of Jesus was God’s vindication of his sinless life – proof of his victory over sin and death. Each time we say the Apostles or Nicene Creed, we affirm our belief that Christ rose from the dead, and that we too will be resurrected in the last day. [5]

The Argument from Changed Lives.

The resurrection is important. You see, Christ’s victory over sin and death, the resurrection, is also proof of our victory over sin and death. It is because of the resurrection that we Christians can live confidently amid danger and adversity. It is because of the resurrection that we can have hope amid trials. It is because of the resurrection that we can proclaim with the apostle Paul, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:38).

There are many arguments for the resurrection. My favorite is this: The most significant argument for the truth of the resurrection is the changed lives of the disciples who formed the church, left their homes, and went to the ends of the world – and their graves – proclaiming the risen Christ. Formerly afraid and hiding, they were now willing to face great opposition resulting from their claim that Jesus was alive.

In this blog, I do not intend to regurgitate the arguments others have made. Instead, I want to discuss a practical question, “How can we experience the power of the new life of the resurrected Christ in our lives?”

Better Together with the Risen Jesus

           Dr. Luke begins the second volume of his biography of Jesus and the history of the early church with a brief review of the final days before Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Earlier, in Luke, Paul described the betrayal by Judas (Luke 22:47-48), the denial of Peter (Luke 22:54-62), the death of Jesus (Luke 23:44-46), and the flight of the other disciples. Luke then narrates the events surrounding the resurrection – the angels’ appearance to the women in the Garden, Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the Road to Damascus, and the Twelve in the Upper Room. Luke describes Jesus’ telling them that they were to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Luke 24:44-49). Finally, he describes Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the disciples’ return to Jerusalem (Luke 24:53).

            In the first chapter of Acts, Luke again recounts a story of the resurrection. He takes time out to reinforce in readers’ minds the fact of the resurrection. [6] Jesus, we are told, appeared to the disciples on many occasions after the resurrection. In First Corinthians, Paul gives a summary of these appearances, saying that Jesus appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve, then to more than five hundred people at the same time, then to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to Paul (see, 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). [7] In just a few weeks, the disciples, who were discouraged, despairing, and disbursed, came together and boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead.

From Despair to Courage

The disciples went from being a scattered, dispirited, discouraged group of former followers of Jesus of Nazareth to being filled with the Holy Spirit. They became a “Band of Brothers” whose exploits the world will never forget. [8]They were ready to face anyone or anything in the name of Jesus. Where there was danger, they possessed courage. Where there was persecution, they possessed fortitude. Where there was opposition, they possessed endurance. Faced with death, they had faith in God and hope for eternal life.

Isn’t this what we desire for our lives? Don’t we wish we could live free of petty fears and petty desires? Don’t we wish we were free to share the love of God with others as Jesus could and did? This morning, I want to highlight three ways we can experience the power of the resurrection in our lives.

Wait for the Holy Spirit

The first thing we must do is to wait for the Holy Spirit. We can imagine that, after they became convinced of the resurrection, the disciples were anxious to begin the business of proclaiming the rule of Christ. Luke gives us some inkling of this when he recounts that the disciples asked Jesus, “Is now the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?”(Acts 1:6). In other words the disciples were saying, “Now that you have returned, can we get started defeating your enemies?”

The fact is, we Christians don’t always understand what God is doing or when and how God intends to do it. We can be overly anxious to get along with the plan before God has fully revealed to us what the plan is, much less what he wants us to do and how he wants us to do it. We can have difficulty waiting.

Many of you know that I am impatient. Once I’ve figured out that there is a problem, I am ready to start solving it, sometimes before God is ready. I’ve noticed that God often reveals some of his plan to me, but not enough for me to get started. I have to wait on God. God likes to teach us patience by asking us to wait. We learn to wait for Jesus to send his Spirit of Wisdom, Love, and Power before we act.

The Power of Meeting Together.

As Christians, we need to learn to wait on God, but waiting does not mean doing nothing. There was plenty to do during the days and weeks between the resurrection and the promise of the Holy Spirit and its arrival. Our text tells us that Jesus continued to appear to them and to teach them, giving them instruction concerning the meaning of his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus taught, and the disciples listened and asked questions, such as “Is now the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6). [9] As we wait for Jesus to empower us in some area, we can still do a lot. We can gather together for worship. We can study our Bibles, attend church, do small group Bible studies, and volunteer in some ministry. We can grow in our understanding of God, of God’s ways, and of God’s call on our lives. While we wait, we can grow closer to Christ and his people.

Some years ago, my former church participated in 40 Days of Community in small groups. Each person experienced a simple daily Bible study, a time of sharing in a group, perhaps a discipleship group or Sunday school class. Each had the opportunity to engage in one of several small service projects. In other words, we had the opportunity to grow together as disciples and work together as Christians. It was life-changing for many people.

Most of the Christian life is spent between tremendous spiritual experiences. Most of the time, we aren’t on the mountain top. We are slogging through the jungle of everyday life, trying to make ends meet, raising children, taking care of other human beings, watching over parents growing old – just trying to show a little of God’s love to those around us. If we are wise, during these ordinary times, we will be a part of some kind of small group of Christians as we share our lives and our faith in small but life-transforming ways.

Pray for the Presence of God.

The most important thing we can do when we meet is pray. Our text tells us that after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room and prayed. It says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). I want to mention two things about this verse.

First, if we desire to live Spirit-empowered lives, we must pray constantly.

Second, not only do we need to be in continual prayer, but we need to be constantly praying in unison with others. We need to meet with other Christians occasionally to pray together. If we want to see the power of God in our marriages, we need to pray as couples. If we’re going to see the power of God in our families, we need to pray in our families. If we want to see God at work in our ministry, like the choir or the band, we need to pray together as a choir or a band. If we want to see God at work in our congregation, we need to pray as a congregation.

Over and over again, I’ve seen the truth that prayer is the key to unlocking and releasing God’s power into a situation. Sometimes, that prayer is one of confession. Sometimes, it is a renewed prayer of intercession. Sometimes, it is a prayer of thanksgiving. Sometimes, it is a prayer of desperation. Whatever the circumstance, prayer is the key to unlocking God’s power.

I’ve also noticed that God often waits until we are willing to be just a little desperate in our prayers. God does not want pro forma prayers. He wants prayers of the heart. I think God listens more to our hearts than to our words. He is often waiting for our hearts to align with his will. I wish I had a story to illustrate this, but the truth is that most of the stories I could tell are so private that I can’t share them. Nevertheless, I have seen the power of God to unlock the solution to problems that, humanly speaking, were impossible to solve.

Conclusion

            What does the resurrection mean? Oswald Chambers, in his daily devotional, My Utmost for His Highest says this about the meaning of the resurrection, “When our Lord rose from the dead, he rose to an absolutely new life … And what his resurrection means for us is that we are raised to his Risen Life, not to our old life.” [10] The resurrection means new life – a different kind and quality of life. The resurrection means we can live the kind of God-filled life that Jesus lived.

            Most of us spend our lives isolated and burdened by old hurts, unresolved guilt, shame, bad habits, and the like. The resurrection is God’s promise that we don’t have to live as we always have. We are not predetermined by our biology, or by our family, or by our past. We can experience a new kind of life, even if we have to live with some of the consequences of the past. I love the contemporary a song “Christ Alone”. One of the verses goes like this:

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me.
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from his hand
‘til he returns and calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand. [11]

            This is the promise – Guilt about our past does not have to determine our lives. Fear of the future does not have to drive us. This means, especially, that fear of death – that fear which drives so much of human life, is gone. [12] To live in the power of the resurrection is to be free of that fear, and from any other fear, for we know nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Therefore, we need not fear others. Freedom from guilt means freedom from shame – shame that separates me from God and others. The resurrection means we are free to live joyfully as part of the Community of the Spirit – Christ’s church.

Copyright 2024, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: McMillan, 1947). See also, Mere Christianity (London: Fontana Books, 1952).

[2] Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Colorado Springs CO: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972).

[3] John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996). These are his Gifford Lectures in the form of a book.

[4] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).

[5] I mention the Nicene Creed (325 AD) because it is the universal creed accepted by Eastern and Western Christians. It is one of the official creeds of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In the Nicene Creed, as in all orthodox creeds, it is affirmed that Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that we, too, will be raised on the last day.

[6] See, William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1955).

[7] Although there are differences among the Gospels concerning the details of the resurrection, they are united in a general pattern: the women first discovered the empty tomb, then Peter and perhaps John or the two on the road to Emmaus saw the Risen Christ, then the remainder of the disciples. Paul adds that there were appearances to many disciples and, last of all, to Paul (I Corinthians 15:3-8).

[8] See, William Shakespeare, “King Henry V Act IV. Scene III in The Collected Works of William Shakespeare (New York: Garden City Books), 581: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me/ Shall be my brother, be he e’re so vile./ This day shall gentle his condition:/ And gentlemen in England now abed/ Shall think themselves cursed they were not here….” (Emphasis Added).

[9] Jesus’ answer was a polite “No,” as he reminded them that no one knows the day or the hour of Christ’s final return (see Acts 1:6ff).

 

[10] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Press, 1992), selection for April 8.

[11] This version of “Christ Alone” was recorded by Newsboys in their 2003 album, “Adoration”.

[12] William Willimon, “Acts” in Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox, 1988), 19-20.