All posts by ChrisScruggs

Chris Scruggs is a retired Presbyterian pastor and attorney. Chris is the author of four books on Christian life, wisdom, and discipleship, Most recently, "Crisis of Discipleship," and is working on a fifth on political theology and philosophy. He authors the blog "Path of Life."

Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

On October 3, 1789, President George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, and the President sent a copy to the executives of the States.  [1] I will not engage in a detailed comparison of this proclamation with those of today, except to note that many of those signed today focus more on the personal, human side of Thanksgiving. Instead of that focus, I would like to lift up just a few aspects of the First Thanksgiving Proclamation that may be lost in the United States today but which surely were on the mind of the new President.

On April 30, 1789, Washington took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City. [2] Two years earlier, on July 2, 1788, the Constitution was fully ratified. Additionally, Congress met for the first time that year and one of its first actions was establishing a Federal Court system. Thus, in 1789, the fundamental form of government we enjoy today was implemented. 1789 was a year in which many years of suffering, war, and oppression bore the fruit of a new nation with a functioning national government.

Features of the Proclamation

This week is Thanksgiving week. Thanksgiving is a national holiday, so perhaps it is a good time to look at the title “holiday” and its meaning then and now. Just a few comments in hopes that readers will read the text of the proclamation for themselves and mediate on its purpose.

  1. There is a transcendental source of value and power in society. The word “holiday” has, at its root, “holy day.” [3] Washington begins his proclamation: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor,…”. Today, Thanksgiving is often a day away from the usual routine of overeating and watching movies or sports. Perhaps for some, it is the day before Black Friday, a day to go shopping for bargains. Strictly speaking, I am unclear whether America has any “holidays,” for we have lost our sense of the “holy” at the foundation of human life.
  2. Americans are not the sole source of their achievements. In the first “Whereas” clause, Washington acknowledges “the providence of Almighty God.” In the first paragraph of the proclamation, Washington describes God as “the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” If anyone might have claimed a personal responsibility, Washington was one. He had been Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. He was the President of the Continental Congress. Now, he was President of the United States. Nevertheless, he could see the hand of Providence in the events in which he had such an active and vital part.

At the beginning of the proclamation, Washington used the word “humility,” recognizing that imploring God needed to be done in the spirit of humility. Once again, he suggests that prayers be given humbly. The word “humility” comes from a root word meaning dirt, the humus of the earth. Later, he will speak of national sins and shortcomings. Washington does not approach his office or the nation’s future with the arrogant confidence of many today who believe they know the right course of action for the new government. He understands that he and others need help to perform their duties so that the new nation prospers.

  1. Americans are imperfect, and so are our achievements. In the second paragraph of the proclamation, Washington submits the following to the nation:

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, ….

Washington recognizes that the new government is not assured of success because of the wisdom and perfection of its leaders. Instead, he offers a prayer for pardon because he is aware that his achievements and those of the other leaders of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army, the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the various states comprising the United States and its citizens, were not perfect and were not achieved without compromise and failure of moral courage. Therefore, he approaches the National Day of Thanksgiving, recognizing the moral and spiritual limitations of the new nation and its government.

  1. Americans look to the future, hoping that our nation will bless other nations with its example of wise and moral governance. The proclamation is not a document of American exceptionalism or one of “America First.” Instead, Washington desires to see the nation receive the blessing of becoming a blessing to all nations “by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed,…”. Our country is not automatically good or wise in its decision-making. It becomes so only as it seeks a transcendent ideal and is wise, just, and faithful in its government and citizenry.

The Proclamation

Here is the complete text of the proclamation:

City of New York, October 3, 1789.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and

 Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee78 requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

The Senate concurred in the House resolve to this effect, September 26.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Conclusion

What is often called “American Civil Religion” is not popular today. Some see in it the danger of a theocracy. Neither Washington nor any of the founding Fathers had any such desire. On the right, it is often noted that many founders were Deists, and some were of dubious faith. In the mind of these folks, the religious language of many of the founders can be translated into real-political language—they were just seeking votes and support. In my mind, what is essential in the “civil religion” of the founders is the recognition that their wisdom and goodness were limited and provisional. Their plans and policies were as frail as their humanity. Therefore, they need a transcendental ideal set before them to achieve the society they hoped to build.

Of course, a “Civil Religion” or “Transcendental Approach” of the 18th Century cannot be the civil religion of America today. Nevertheless, I suggest that there can be a sort of common American faith for the 21st century, one that incorporates those who have a religious faith of whatever kind and those who do not. Its fundamental principles might look something like that assumed by Washington’s proclamation.

  • Metaphysical ideals, such as Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Justice, are important.
  • Americans are not the sole source of their achievements and no one group has a lock on what is best for the nation.
  • Americans are imperfect, and so are our achievements.
  • Americans look to the future, hoping that our nation will bless other nations by its example of wise and moral governance.

This kind of metaphysical approach will not satisfy the doctrinal faith of the adherents of any particular creed. It is not intended to, nor does it satisfy mine. It will not meet the religious longings of those who are faithful Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or the adherents of any particular faith, including secularists.  It is not intended to, nor does it satisfy mine. It is an area of common space, and that is all.

 The approach places us all in that humble position of knowing we need help to be faithful and wise. We are not solely responsible for our successes or failures in life. We are imperfect and flawed, fallible and foolish, and our achievements share these characteristics. We have hope because we seek a better, more just, and more humane future for ourselves and every other citizen of the nation, whether we agree with them or not. With this highly imperfect suggestion, I sign off.

To all my friends, wherever you may be from San Antonio, Texas, to the ends of the earth, I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving Day.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] George Washington, “Thanksgiving Proclamation” at October 3, 1789 Thanksgiving, Library Of Congress https://www.loc.gov/resource/mgw8a.124/?q=1789+Thanksgiving&sp=132&st=text (downloaded November 21, 2023). Washington was an Anglican. Scholars differ, but I think he was a relatively pious and active member of the church, remembering that he was a farmer, businessman, soldier, and politician, not a religious professional.

[2] The capitol would not be moved to Washington D.C. until 1800, when Congress first me in the new city. The site of the new capital was chosen in 1790.

[3] The word comes from the Old English “haligdæg,” which means “holy day, consecrated day. A holiday is not a vacation day. It is a holy day in which we should remember our blessings and their ultimate source.

“Moral Inversion” (Moral Reductionism) and the Current Gaza War

Like many people, I have been horrified by the images of the recent pro-Hamas demonstrations on college campuses and elsewhere and the resurgence of antisemitism in the West generally and in America in particular. One of the most disturbing images involves those where young people are screaming irrationally at one another, yelling what can only be described as hateful speech. Each day, I read a feed of news that allows commentary, and I am equally appalled by calls to drop unconventional weapons on Gaza and to destroy the nation of Israel by creating a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea.” For those who do not understand the phrase, it means that the state of Palestine would run from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, eliminating the State of Israel.

I have traveled to Israel and the West Bank in the past and had the opportunity to see the complexities of the relations between the citizens of Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. I have taken some time to study the creation of the State of Israel after the Second World War and the warning to President Truman given by some of his advisors that the course of action proposed would involve the United States in a long and complex conflict. Those advisors have been proven correct.

In the end, the power of the Jewish lobby in Washington and the moral outrage at the situation of the Jewish people in Europe convinced Truman and the United Nations that the State of Israel should be created. Since 1948, the United States and Western Europe have struggled to find some way to make a lasting peace where there is much hate and distrust. This is not to say that the decision was wrong or unjustified or that Truman made an error. It is simply to outline the complexity of the situation.

Recently, the Abraham Accords and the gradual process of normalizing relations have created some hope that progress is being made toward an end to the overarching conflict.  I believe the recent war, in part, reflects the reaction of those who do not wish this to happen, particularly the regime in Iran. The problem Israel and the West face is both complex and challenging, and simplistic jingoistic solutions from either side are not helpful. Indeed, they are harmful. Unfortunately, many intelligentsia in the United States have fed the problem. This leads to a discussion of how contemporary political thought is damaged by a kind of moral reductionism that fails to understand the complexity of many moral quandaries and the need to balance many and sometimes conflicting moral impulses.

The Problem of Moral Inversion

The philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi, famously critiqued what he called the “moral inversion” that often characterizes modern radical political movements. Polanyi saw moral inversion as a perversion resulting from the moral idealism of the Christian faith being cut off from its deeper roots in the process of secularized, materialistic thinking.Polanyi believes the strong demand for moral perfection characteristic of Christianity, combined with the materialist reductionism of modern thought, ends in an objective moral nihilism. This, in turn, results in a destructive form of moral reason. [1] In Logic of Liberty, Polanyi describes the phenomenon (speaking of Russian Marxists and German Nazis) 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.” [2]

In this statement, Polanyi describes a process by which people who have lost confidence in traditional morality channel their moral energy into a single cause, believing that force and power are the only relevant realities, in the vain attempt to create a better world or right a perceived moral wrong. In the process, they create even greater injustice and human suffering.

Human beings are, by nature, moral. When denied an intellectual ground for their moral passions by education or training, 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 “more humane” society along strictly materialistic lines. Communism or some form of national socialism has been the preferred channel. The political disasters of the 20th and now 21st centuries are often powered by moral energy resulting from this destructive rechanneling of moral passions.

Moral Reductionism

What Polanyi calls “moral inversion” might better be called “moral reductionism” or “moral absolutism.” The problem is often not with whether the underlying idea of morality is immoral or moral but with the fact that one moral ideal is sought to exclude other important ethical principles. For example, the willingness of Lenin, Mao, and their followers to destroy human life and engage in great cruelty sought the goal of an economically more just society at the expense of the equally important value of human freedom and human life. This phenomenon involves not so much an inversion as a kind of reductionism or absolutization of one value to the exclusion of others. This same kind of thinking is embodied in the modern slogans of “right to choose” and “right to life.” The attempt to reduce the moral quandary to a single maxim oversimplifies the moral reality.

Dynamo-Objective Coupling, Moral Inversion, and Hypocrisy

According to Polanyi, the false ideal of objectivism, when coupled with the moral urges of humankind, creates a “dynamo-objective coupling,” whereby alleged “scientific assertions” of a group are accepted because they satisfy the moral passions of human beings. [3] In other words, the dynamic power of moral impulses can be perverted by denying conventional morality coupled with an objectivist excuse for unleashing moral energy in service to a particular cause. Paradoxically, this is precisely what Marxist and Nazism and a host of modern “isms” can achieve, particularly among the young.

There is no critique of Christianity more common than the complaint that Christians are hypocrites—that is to say, 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 we may aspire to but can never obtain. In Polanyi’s view, the perfectionistic impulse of Christian faith is responsible for a great deal of the moral progress of Western civilization. Unfortunately, among those afflicted with a loss of belief or no faith at all in any moral or spiritual ideals, the deeply seated moral urge to achieve moral objectives can become a breeding ground for moral inversion powered by a feeling that all traditional morality is hypocritical. [4] This potential for the emergence of a kind of moral inversion is not limited to Western society. The criticism can be and has also been urged against other traditional ethical systems. [5] The postmodern charge makes this more dangerous because of the claim that all moral claims, whatever their source, are merely bids for power.

Beginning with the Enlightenment and its exaltation of critical reason, virtually all forms of faith and morals, including the social ideal of justice, have been 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) is an illusion, that Christianity is a slave religion, and that the Will to Power is the final characteristic and justification of sound moral reasoning. This thinking leads directly to the appalling irrational immorality of contemporary politics, where winning is everything, and any immoral action is justified if it furthers a moral ideal held by a particular group.

The reductionist character of modern thought is seen in the tendency of the left and the right 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, ethical goods. [6] In contemporary society, we have seen played out the view that some moral ideal held by one particular group is the supreme moral good. Other ethical duties, such as protecting the rights of the accused to a fair trial, the responsibility 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, the need of children and others for secure homes, etc. can and should be abandoned in the search for some single moral good urged by a particular group. [7]   All these are examples of a kind of moral inversion or moral reductionism that seeks a single moral good at the expense of other equally important moral goods.

Conclusion

It should be evident that the extreme views of many contemporary political groups, the violence of rioters and looters, and a media egging them on are incompatible with the freedoms they purport to be advancing. A society built on terror is a terror to everyone: good, evil, rich, poor, powerful, and powerless. I was able to travel to Russia just after the fall of Communism. Communism was physically, morally, and spiritually impoverishing to everyone in Russian society. What we see playing out on the streets of our cities in America is unfortunately too similar to the phenomena that led 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.

There is much suffering in the world. Currently, the situations in the Ukraine and Gaza vie for the attention of Western people. Both involve complex problems with long and complex histories. Neither side is entirely right in both cases, and complex moral issues are involved. There is no easy or simple solution—and it is improbable that war alone can create a just and lasting peace.

To focus for a moment on the current Israel-Gaza situation, there is no doubt that the activity of terrorists in attacking and raping and killing innocent civilians is both a moral evil and a just cause for war. On the other hand, the notion that Israel can, by military means, eliminate Hamas and its supporters and create a peaceful neighbor in Gaza is fantastical. The idea that the United States and the West can impose a solution to warring parties engaged in a decades-long conflict is also delusional. In the Middle East, we see a situation where power politics and reliance on violence to achieve political ends reach logically and practically impossible conclusions. The “politics of love,” that is a realization by the parties of themselves that they live in a common land and must recognize their common interest in a lasting peace (while accommodating one another through a process of dialogue and rational adjustment based upon their common need for stability and a flourishing of their citizens) provides a counter-intuitive way out of seven plus decades of war and violence. [8]

In Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love, a Christian restatement of the Tao Te Ching, it is remarked that war is a catastrophe for the victor and defeated alike. When any conflict is over, bad feelings and a desire for revenge remain—often breeding additional conflict. [9] Therefore, the following advice is given—good advice, I think:

The best policy is this: Avoid conflict if at all possible.

If conflict arises, the best policy is this: Avoid unnecessary destruction.

If conflict continues, the best policy is this: Seek a just solution.

If conflict reaches a conclusion, the best policy is this: Show mercy and restore good relations. [10]

Blessings to all my readers, and a prayer for peace-Salam/Shalom.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] This blog is partially taken from both prior blogs and a short monograph I am writing on what I call “Sophio-Agapic” political theory. This is not the place to outline the long line of moral reductionism that ends in a Marxist denial of traditional morality. Nor is it the place to discuss the movement of the Enlightenment 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 impacts even those who deny that they accept it. The power orientation of our culture is a part of its plausibility structure. Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1991).

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

[3] PK, 230-233.

[4] Everyman Revisited, 99.

[5] While Polanyi was primarily interested in Western society, it may be observed that the phenomenon of moral inversion can be present in other cultures as well. For example, Mao encouraged the criticism of Confucianism because it had formed the basis of the historic order of China.

[6] 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 ethical thinking. 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).

[7] I do not want to 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.

[8] As an aside, in my view, the so-called “two-state” and “one-state” solutions are inadequate for the complexities involved. The parties must look beyond the nationalism of current national and international politics and consider the creation of smaller independent political units in Gaza and the West Bank that are not fully national and cannot have offensive forces but are fully independent and self-governing. For example, there is no question that Gaza could become the Luxemburg or Monte Carlo of the Middle East, with great freedom and prosperity for its inhabitants.

[9] G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love rev. ed. (Booksurge, 2016), Chapters 31 and 79.

[10] Id, Chapter 68.

Reflections on Violence in a Time of War

During the past four weeks, many of us have been confronted by the images of the terror attacks in Israel and the response by Israel in Gaza. We have seen terrible pictures from the initial attack and subsequent scenes of destruction caused by days and nights of war. In the media, we see and hear accusations and counter-accusations. Unsurprisingly, many people have become confused and weary. Nevertheless, we cannot merely choose not to see and hear. For disciples of Jesus, this and every war present special challenges. In a few weeks, we will celebrate the coming of the “Prince of Peace,”—whose very name implies that war and violence are contrary to his nature and the world God intends.

The term “just war” has an implication sometimes lost on Christians. In the ordinary course of events, war and violence involve injustice. One might say that Just War Theory implies that war is intrinsically evil and causes endless suffering, the limits of which are set by the governments of the world and the nature of their armies.

Interestingly, to say that a war is just or unjust is to imply that there is such a thing as justice, and it can be applied to the kind of state-sponsored violence that war inevitably involves. To say that one embraces just war theory is to believe that combatants have moral and ethical limitations to what can and should be done before and during conflict. This, in turn, implies that there is a moral order to the universe outside of mere human feelings and desires.

Just war theory is often considered significant only in deciding to go to war, but just war theory also constrains what can be done during a war by those engaged in combat. An otherwise just war can be waged by unjust means. Beginning with the American Civil War and the emerging doctrine of total war, some implications of just war theory began to erode. By the end of the Second World War and the Allies’ victory over two enemies who regularly violated the rules of war, the theory had become as much a public relations tool as a valid constraint on war. This has been especially true during the recent Gaza conflict, in which the press and at least one combatant have misinterpreted the laws of war to justify otherwise unjust acts. In a world that worships power and the will to power, restrictions on violence are difficult to maintain.

This blog briefly covers the basic concepts of just war theory and hopefully helps readers determine their views on wars, including those currently dominating the headlines. The blog has two parts: the justification for war and rules that limit what may be done in conducting the war.

A, Deciding to Go to War (Jus ad Bellum)

 Just cause

For a war to be just, it must begin with just cause. A typical example of just cause is self-defense, though coming to the defense of an innocent nation is also a just cause. One result of treaties of mutual defense is that coming to the defense of a country with which one has a treaty of mutual protection renders the reason just if the underlying conflict is just.

In the situations of the Ukraine and Gaza, from the perspective of just war theory, Russia’s attack on the Ukraine cannot be just. As to the current Gaza conflict, the onslaught of Hamas on Israel and the death of many civilians also cannot be cause for war. After September 11, 2001, there was no question that some response to the World Trade Center and other attacks was warranted. Interestingly, the situation was not so clear as to the subsequent decision to invade Iraq. Some think the Afghanistan campaign was just but deny that status to the Iraq campaign.

Just Intention

In deciding to go to war, the parties’ intention is important. Even if a cause might be construed as just, the war cannot be just if the true motive is unjust. For example, if a political leader creates a war to advance their power or cling to power, this would not be a just intention. War-time political leaders are to be motivated, personally, by reasons that make a war just for the nation.

 One argument made against the Second Iraq War was the fear that the President of the United States was perhaps partially motivated by threats made against his father, a former President. One is not entitled to begin a war for merely personal reasons. In the case of Ukraine, if the rationale for the war is simply to reconstruct the Russian Empire, the cause cannot be just. If Hamas intended to draw Israel into a fight in Gaza in hopes of destroying its army and bringing other nations into the conflict, the cause is not just.

Legitimate Authority

A just war can only be declared by leaders of a legitimate political authority in compliance with the political requirements of that community. This means, for example, that a terrorist organization is never entitled to declare war, and any war in which a terrorist group engages is not a just war. Terrorist groups are not governments. (Hamas has recently denied that it has a duty to citizens of Gaza, claiming their safety is the responsibility of the United Nations. This is inconsistent with being a legitimate government.) In the case of Al Qaida, the situation is obvious: Al Qaida was not a government, nor did it have a warrant to conduct a war.

This element of just war theory is important concerning the present conflict in the Middle East. Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations. They have no warrant to attack Israel, and as we shall see below, the laws of war prevent the means used—violence against civilian populations. Furthermore, if Hamas attacked Israel not to protect the interest of the citizens of Gaza but on orders of a third party (Iran), there is no question but that the war is unjust. In thinking about just war, it is essential to distinguish between the attack of private agents and organizations and the attack of a legitimate authority.

Just Proportionality

The principle of just proportionality is one of the most complicated to evaluate. Not every action by a state towards another state can be used as a pretext for unlimited war. For example, let us suppose that, instead of invading Israel, killing many people, and taking captives, Hamas had merely fired a missile that landed in the middle of the Sinai desert, killing no one. Such an act would justify some kind of response; however, it would not justify the kind of war now unfolding.

The principle of proportionality also requires state actors to consider the likely results of the war. For example, in the case of the United States invasion of Iraq, just war theory required leaders to consider the possibilities of success or failure. Perhaps more importantly, combatants also must consider whether or not an action would involve costs and suffering beyond what was necessary to accomplish the goals of the United States.

In the specific case of the Second Gulf War, the given purpose of the United States was to prevent Iraq from becoming a source of terrorism, and in particular, terrorism using weapons of mass destruction against the United States and its allies. Many argued that the goals of the United States could be achieved without a war. This is a possibility that our leaders were required to consider in their decision-making.

The same thing is true of the current war in Gaza. One requirement on Hamas, if it is a legitimate authority, is the question, “What will the condition of Gaza be after this war?” If the answer to this question is, “It will be completely destroyed,” then just war theory restrains any government from engaging in such a war. Underlying this idea is a kind of Augustinian notion that the peace a war results in must involve a superior condition of the parties to that condition in which they found themselves before the war. For example, in the case of the Second World War, a world without the violence and tyranny of Hitler was a profound reason for the war.

Last Resort

Just war requires that the participants explore and investigate reasonable alternatives before engaging in war, such as negotiation, diplomacy, economic sanctions, etc. Because war involves inevitable suffering by innocents, the question must always be asked, “Is war really necessary?” if the war is unnecessary, then it cannot be just. Those of us who remember the beginning of the Vietnam War and the beginning of the Second Gulf War remember that our government spent a good deal of time persuading people that the war was a last resort. In the case of Vietnam, it was not until after an alleged attack on US vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin that the war was felt to be legitimate. In the case of the Second Gulf War, it was only after attempts to disarm Iraq peacefully failed that the decision to go to war was felt to be just.

Both of these instances indicate the application of a prior principle to this notion of last resort. It is never a last resort if a particular circumstance is being used as a pretext for going to war. So, for example, the fact that we have been unable to peacefully get a wreck to agree to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction could not be a justification for war if the leaders of the country knew there were no weapons of mass destruction or actual threat from the alleged enemy.

For Christians, the doctrine of last resort is fundamental. For a Christian to believe that any war is just, it must be the case that there is no reasonable alternative but to engage in conflict. If there is any reasonable means by which the peace can be maintained, then, for Christians, that alternative must be taken. Although this is not a part of just war theory, in my view, this particular requirement implies that Christians have to take certain risks to avoid war.

B. Just Conduct of War (Jus in Bello)

In addition to principles that restrain the decision to go to war, ethical principles govern how combatants conduct themselves during combat.

Discrimination

Just because a war is justified, not every means can be used to conduct that war. Just war theory requires that combatants attack legitimate targets. Civilians, medical personnel, religious groups, and aid workers are not legitimate targets of military attacks. Although an army force may attack another enemy force with resulting deaths as a side-effect, they are justified only if necessary and proportionate. Targeting civilians and aid workers is never permissible.

This principle has played an essential role in the current Gaza war. The indiscriminate firing of missiles from and into civilian areas by Hamas cannot be justified. This is not a justifiable means of conducting war. It’s a deliberate attack on innocent civilians. As to Israel, the charge is often made that they are dropping bombs in civilian areas on civilians. Israel responds that they are attacking legitimate military targets. They often give examples of their diligence in determining this was a military target. If this is the case, then just war theory allows the collateral damage to civilians because the targets themselves were targets of military necessity.

Proportionality 

Just as the principle of proportionality applies to a decision to go to war, it also applies to how one conducts a war. Justice during war requires that military forces cannot use force or cause harm exceeding any strategic or ethical benefits in any particular military operation during a war. The general idea is that militaries should use the minimum force necessary to achieve legitimate military aims and objectives.

The doctrine of proportionality in the conduct of war is one of the most difficult to embrace. During the late days of the Second World War, President Truman authorized the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of people. When deciding to use the bomb, Truman had to decide against the views of some of his generals and admirals, who believed that it would be possible to simply blockade Japan and avoid the use of the bomb and the killing of innocent civilians. The decision to use the bomb was made to save American lives in the event of an invasion of Japan. Today, scholars of war argue on both sides of this issue.

This is of contemporary importance. In the Ukraine war, the Russians have threatened to use tactical nuclear weapons. At least once during the current Gaza war, an individual (since disciplined by the Israeli government) suggested that the use of atomic weapons would be justified in that conflict. Once again, the use of weapons of mass destruction, which are sure to kill civilians to achieve a military goal that can be achieved by other means, cannot be justified.

Since the end of the Second World War, this principle has become increasingly challenging to implement. During the Second World War, all of the parties engaged in the mass bombing of civilian areas. The idea developed that the use of the V1 and V2 weapons by Hitler was a mere terror technique, unjustified by the laws of war. Yet, the Allies defended the bombing of civilian areas in Germany and Japan on the grounds that it would shorten the war. This is an area in which just war theory must take a turn towards restraining governments in using weapons and tactics that inevitably cause disproportionate damage to the enemy.

Intrinsically Unjust Means of War

There are specific means of conducting war that may be intrinsically unjust. For example, there are conventions against the use of chemical and biological weapons during wartime. The experience of the governments of Europe during the First World War, in which sarin and other gases were used, convinced everyone that these weapons were intrinsically evil. There may be additional elements of warfare, for example, the use of torture, that are inherently unjust.

After the Second World War, the treatment of American prisoners by the Japanese and the subsequent trial of some soldiers who were engaged in that treatment proceeded on the assumption that the laws of war prevented the mistreatment of captured soldiers. During the recent incursion into Israel, it is alleged that Hamas beheaded certain prisoners, including children. The use of beheading by some combatants during the War on Terror was an example of the use of a tactic that is intrinsically unjust.

During the recent gods of war, it is alleged that Hamas has used ambulances and hospitals to shield its fighters and its leadership. If true, this would be an unjust method of conducting war. Because hospitals and ambulances are protected during combat, the use of hospitals and ambulances to shield combatants inevitably requires that the opposing force make complex moral judgments and accept the necessity of civilian casualties. One reason why soldiers must wear uniforms is so that discrimination can be made between legitimate combatants and civilians who are protected. Techniques that blur that distinction are inherently unjust.

C. Conclusion

I am sure that some readers will object to portions of the content of this particular essay. I’ve tried to use various examples, including the United States of America, to clarify that the principles of just war theory are not simply “Western” or designed to give an advantage to the United States and its allies. They are principles of war that stretch back early in Western history. Muslim and other philosophers have notions of just war theory that are similar to those discussed here. Perhaps in a future blog, I can discuss just war theory from the perspective of other cultures.

I hope that this particular blog will help readers evaluate the conduct of their governments, as well as the behavior of the governments mentioned. If all that is real is matter, power, and the wheel to power, then there cannot be universal ethical restraints on governments or their citizens regarding the use of violence. Ultimately, what matters is winning.

If there is an inherent restraint on war, and if war is in some sense a violation of the shalom of the world and there are principles of just war, then the reverse is true: Not every action is justified because it advances our cause.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

Hauerwas 3: From “Theologian in Residence” to Bricklaying: Discipleship in the 21st Century

Cultural change is not easy for anyone. For those of us raised at the end of Christendom, who came to maturity during the beginning of the “mega-Church movement” within  Mainline Protestant Christianity, the current state of American society and of the American Church is difficult to comprehend.

This blog discusses Disciplemaking and church leadership for the 21st Century. I want to start at the end of the 20th Century. In 1991, I went to Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. The president of the seminary was T. Hartley Hall. Hartley came from a good family and had been a student at Davidson College, a Presbyterian four-year college. After Davidson, he served in the Korean War and was a Platoon Leader, Company Commander, and Headquarters Commandant for the 32nd Infantry Regiment. Mr. Hall was awarded a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and a Silver Star for gallantry.

Hartley then attended Union Theological Seminary and served in several pastorates. He was a pastor at a fine church in Nashville, Tennessee, when he was called to be the President of Union. Hartley was a theological moderate-liberal, suspicious of evangelical, charismatic, and other movements that might be termed “Fundamentalist” or “overly enthusiastic.” Instead of “spirituality,” Harley used the term “piety” to describe spiritual formation. One purpose of mentioning Hartley in this blog is to honor his service to the church, even though I cannot entirely agree with his conclusions or the precise content of his leadership.

When Hartley described the role of a pastor, he sometimes used the term “Theologian in Residence for a local congregation.” The job of Union was to turn out pastors with the skills to be theologians for their congregations. Although Hartley and I were never friends, we had a certain similarity. I disagreed with Hartley’s theology, but what I did buy into was the notion that professional education (eventually including a Doctor in Ministry), a deep study of the Old  and New Testaments in both the original and translated languages, proficiency in exegeting the Bible, and a solid theology were essential for pastoral success. In my mind, the pastor of a local Presbyterian congregation needed to be a highly trained and experienced professional.

Not long after graduating, I realized local congregations usually didn’t want theologians in residence. They wanted a good and enthusiastic preacher, a caring pastor, a shepherd for the flock, a friendly person of faith they could relate to, someone who they felt comfortable talking to with decent administrative skills, someone to lead a well-run youth group for their children, and a host of other things before they wanted a theologian in residence.

Don’t get me wrong, all my churches were evangelical, and they wanted their pastor to be sound theologically, Bible-based in their thinking, and capable of giving biblical sermons (and they didn’t want a great deal of abstract thought in the text of the Sunday sermon). They desired practical applications they could take home and put into practice. But, in the end, deep down, they really did not want a theologian in residence, which is precisely what the seminaries of my denomination thought they were training.

If you look at the list of things above that I have come to believe churches want, it is easy to see that only a few of them are what we would call “professional.” The personal qualities of the pastor are what congregations experience day after day, and those qualities determine ninety percent of pastoral success. Unfortunately, mainline denominations have come to see their pastors as providers of professional services, sort of spiritual lawyers or doctors for the congregation. The congregation, except in a very few cases, wants something else.

After Christendom

One focus of Resident Aliens and After Christendom is on the question, “What kind of training do pastors and leaders need to build alternative Christian communities in the 21st century?” [1] The answer can be summarized by the following statement: “Seminaries and other pastoral training organizations need to focus on training pastors who can build authentic Christian communities strong enough to sustain themselves in a hostile environment.” Since both Stanley, Hauerwas and Will Willimon are Methodist, and I am a Presbyterian, you can assume that by that statement they don’t mean, and I would not mean, that the Church doesn’t need to be worried about good exegetical skills, theological competence, some amount of professional training, etc. That’s not the point. The point is that today, the Church, first and foremost, needs pastors and Church leaders who can build, grow, and lead communities of faith.

Bricklaying, Stone Masonry, and Disciple-making

This is where we get to bricklaying. In After Christendom, Hauerwas says the following:

To learn to lay brick, it is not sufficient for you to be told how to do it, but you must learn a multitude of skills that are coordinated into the activity of laying brick – that is why before you lay brick, you must learn to mix the mortar, build scaffolds, joint, and so on. Moreover, it is not enough to be told how to hold a trowel, how to spread mortar, or how to frog the mortar, but in order to lay break, you must hour after hour, day after day lay brick.

Of course, learning to lay brick involves not only learning myriad skills but also a language that forms and is formed by those skills. [2]

Bricklaying is a trade. What matters in bricklaying is not what school you attended or what advanced degrees you earned but the simple question, “Can this person lay bricks?” Kathy and I now live in San Antonio, Texas, where limestone is abundant, and many fine old homes are made of stone or brick. I’ve had to have a stone wall repaired. The experience taught me something vital: Not everyone is a good stonemason. What matters most is not the company the person works for, the trade school they attended, or their references on the internet. What matters is whether they can lay bricks.

Bricklaying is a trade, and a skilled trade at that. Good bricklaying requires not just an understanding of the physics and math of bricklaying but also a kind of physical coordination, a kind of tacit knowledge that people possess to a greater or lesser degree based on years of experience. To say that bricklaying is a skill is not the same as saying that there’s no cognitive component to bricklaying. There is. Many books, articles, YouTube videos, and other ways to learn that mental component. As Hauerwas notes, there is an entire language to be learned as an inexperienced bricklayer learns their trade. This language enables the bricklayer to communicate with others, share information, perfect their technique, develop new techniques, and eventually train other bricklayers.

A good bricklayer or stone mason typically trains under an experienced craftsperson. This means that the quality of the mentor is directly correlated to the quality of the student. As Jesus put it, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master”(Matthew 10:24-25). I suspect Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about.

After all, Jesus was a craftsman. He grew up in the home of a carpenter. His father, Joseph, almost certainly trained him to be a carpenter and to help him in his craft. Jesus knew what it meant to be the apprentice. Jesus was not above Joseph. Jesus was not trying to be better than Joseph. He was trying to be like Joseph as far as being a carpenter was concerned. Jesus knew becoming a good craftsman required imitation, time, and practice. He also knew that would be true for church leaders of every kind. He knew what it was to learn a trade at the feet of an experienced master. He had sat at the feet of his father, and he had helped his father, working beside him day after day learning to be a carpenter.

Disciple-Making Today

Unlike many pastors, I was an active layman in a local church for fifteen years before I went to seminary. On the day I walked onto the campus of Union Theological Seminary, I had experience as a Sunday school teacher and small group leader. I’d led a singles ministry, a young married ministry, and college and youth ministries. I’d been a deacon, participated in solving organizational problems, meeting annual budgets, and funding capital campaigns. I had been an elder, including an elder in a time of conflict. The senior pastor of the Church was a very experienced, well-known pastor near the end of his career. To this very day, I often ask myself “What would Jack have done?” in solving problems.

In other words, before being professionally trained, I had been an apprentice for a long time. The seminary was simply the Biblical and Theological “icing on the cake” of preparation for ministry. The fact that seminary did not teach me how to form a small group, begin a men’s ministry, disciple elders, take care of junior high boys, do a capital campaign, manage a church, and the like did not matter. For a lot of people, it does matter. They spend years failing and learning essential skills they should have been taught before they learned some of the more abstract ideas behind the craft of being a church leader. They would have learned many of those ideas, “the language of the craft,” along the way. In other words, they needed to learn to lay bricks.

Conclusion

Underneath some of the superficial complexity of Resident Aliens and After Christendom is a reasonably simple understanding that changes in Western culture require the Church to change how it trains pastors and leaders. In my day, the seminary really did not like what are called “second career students.” We often disagreed with ideas we had seen fail in practice, however popular they were in academia. We were less malleable. (We did have our pre-existing prejudices that needed to be corrected.) We were not necessarily the easiest students to handle, and because we had families and children, we couldn’t devote the kind of time to seminary that some of the younger students could.

Nevertheless, I’ve come to believe that, instead of a second career students being the exception, they need to be the norm in seminaries. The reason they need to become the norm has to do with mentoring and discipleship. When I use the term “second career,” I don’t necessarily mean someone who spent many years in a secular profession. I mean that no one should be in seminary who has not undergone a period of apprenticeship.

As far as I can tell, in the early Church, the process by which a person became a leader involved becoming an apprentice to someone like Paul and later a leader of the Church. This idea continues in some denominations and groups today: people become deacons and assistant worship for some time before they become priests or teaching elders, sometimes called “ordained pastors.” I think this idea has merit. One reason is that we have difficulty in most mainline churches in finding pastors for relatively small congregations, especially rural congregations. Training people from the community and congregation and then later on giving them the technical education that will improve their preaching and pastoral abilities seems to me to be a better way of going forward than continuing to train a lot of people in seminary from larger churches, who are not culturally fit for smaller and rural churches. A second reason involves seeing that ordained people possess the personalities and traits needed for success. As the head of a Committee on Ministry, I have also seen the damage done by having pastors in churches whose limitations cause misery and decline.

Our congregation has a relationship with a local church planting group. Some of those church planters have either no or limited prior professional education. Our church responded to that need by creating a center that helps them get that training online through an organization called “Third Millennium.” We’ve noticed that the students are intensely interested in certain parts of the theological and biblical curriculum. Why? Because they see the practical need in day-to-day ministry for additional Biblical and theological knowledge.

The current structure of many denominations for training pastors has a long history. In many cases, for hundreds of years that training system met the needs of the congregations they served. Over time, however, as culture changed, that method began to show some weaknesses. The same thing is true of disciple-making. We are in a time when changes need to be made, and new systems need to be developed.

Many churches, including mine, had reasonably sophisticated systems for making disciples and training future leaders. Somewhere around 2010, however, our church noticed that our older systems no longer worked. The programs on which we had relied for decades no longer worked well. Most serious churches have had to develop different strategies for disciple-making over the past twenty years. This is not to say that what they were doing before wasn’t good. It was. It just no longer worked. Sponsoring Bible studies was no longer enough. Weekend retreats were no longer enough. Officer training was no longer enough. Relying on the seminaries was no longer enough. They have had to grow, change, and adapt and continue to grow change, and adapt. Where will this end? No one knows. To find out, we just have to keep growing, changing, and adapting.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon, Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014) and Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom?: How the Church is to Behave is Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation are Bad Ideas (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991).

[2] After Christendom, 101.

Hauerwas 2: After Christendom Part 1

Stanley Hauerwas plays an important role in this series of blogs. These blogs are about political philosophy, the philosophical basis for how government should operate, and political theology, the theological basis for Christian thought and action related to public life. Strictly speaking, Hauerwas doesn’t fit neatly in either of these categories. He is not a philosopher. In his view, the Church does not so much have a political theology as a concrete reality as the bearer of the witness of the Lordship of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world. Yet, Hauerwas is essential both because of his prominence as a thinker and because he challenges many assumptions Christians make about the nature of discipleship in contemporary culture.

More importantly, Hauerwas brings Christian discipleship to the forefront of the conversation. It is the discipleship of the Church that allows it to sustain itself within any particular political environment. This focus doesn’t mean that the theological commitments of church members don’t matter or impact public life. They do. It implies that the Church’s primary duty is to be the Church entirely. With this point, it is difficult to disagree.

Resident Aliens

Although Resident Aliens has come to be seen as an essential late 20th-century book of political theology, the book was not primarily addressed to academia or the society in which the Church lives in America. The book is addressed mainly to the Church; this is why, in various places, it is more concerned about forming disciples of Jesus within the Church than it is about politics. The focus is on the condition of the mainline Protestant churches, and particularly the United Methodist Church, as to how they might best respond to the cultural realities they face. Resident Aliens doesn’t discuss many political difficulties with which Christians are familiar. When it does, it takes a position designed to underscore the role of the Church as the primary instrument by which disciples are made. When the Church is the Church, it inevitably influences society by its integrity of faith and practice. (This. by the way, is one of the areas in which I am critical of Resident Aliens; it often seems too concerned to assure the readers that the authors have not joined the opposition and support the general theological, moral, and political drift of the mainline churches with rare exceptions.)

Hauerwas and Willimon, a Methodist chaplain and retired bishop, set out to speak to both sides of the theological divisions of our day in hopes that concerned Christians will see through them to a deeper issue: the meaning of discipleship in contemporary society. The Church and its discipleship are the basis for any Christian ethic or involvement in community. Hauerwas and Willimon put it this way:

… When it comes to Christian ethics, it is not whether we shall be conservative or liberal, left or right, but whether we shall be faithful to the Church’s peculiar vision of living and acting as disciples. [1]

In the end, Resident Aliens makes the claim its title announces: Christians in the West are called to live in a much different world than they have become accustomed to inhabiting, a world in which the secular powers and principalities rule, and Christians live as wanderers in the land just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in the ancient Middle East—a largely ignored and sometimes persecuted people worshiping a God foreign to the gods of the surrounding peoples. In America, this includes the gods of personal peace, prosperity, affluence, and pleasure, especially sexual gratification. In such a society, YHWH is an alien god indeed.

Question before the Church

If Hauerwas is correct, the primary question before the Church today is not: “How can we convert a pagan world?” (That was never the goal or motivating question of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Israel for most of its history). The question is, “How do we survive as strangers in a strange land?” Speaking as one born in the aftermath of the Second World War into a middle-class family in the Midwestern United States, where the entire life of the community was profoundly formed by the Christian week, the Christian holidays, and the Christian story, to ask the question Hauerwas asks is to ask another, one that Hauerwas and Willimon do not answer, “How in the world did we get here?” or perhaps more simply, as Dorothy observes in the Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Christians today must ask, “How will we live now that we have left Kansas and come to Oz on a path we never intended?

After Christendom

In After Christendom, Hauerwas continues the discussion begun in Resident Aliens. [2] As a result, this second book is more academic and deals with some of the philosophical and theological basis for the position in Resident Aliens. Hauerwas begins where Resident Aliens left off with a quote from George Linbeck: Christianity in the West “is in an awkwardly intermediate stage of having once been culturally established but not yet clearly disestablished.” [3]

Linbeck accurately describes the starting place where we find ourselves. Around us lies the ruins of Christian culture, symbolized by once magnificent Christian universities subverted to the service of all the “isms” of the 19th and 20th centuries, Communism, Critical-Theorism, Deconstructionism, Ecojustice-ism, Freudianism, Gaiaism, Marxism, and all the rest: breeding grounds for hatred of the West and its values and irrationally confident that its naive version of reality can bring in a paradise for human flourishing. This naïve silliness is not limited to the literary class. It is present on Wall Street and in those corporate boardrooms who admire the “efficiencies of the Chinese state.” It is much more likely that the leaders of the great cultural revolution of the West and its intellectual cheerleaders will bring in something that looks a lot more like Berlin on May 15, 1945, or Russia the week after Stalin’s death than paradise the day before the fall of the race.

We live after Christendom, and only the deluded think it is a good place to be. As Alastair MacIntyre puts it:

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless, certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead-often not recognizing fully what they were doing- was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes pan of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another-doubtless very different-St. Benedict. [4]

This, indeed, is where Stanley Hauerwas believes Western society has come. We are at some point in a new Dark Age, in which the powers and principalities embodied by the new barbarians reign and are busy consolidating their power. These new barbarians, working for a New Oligarchy, control most of the West and a good bit of the rest of the world. In some places, the situation is worse. In our captivity, we await a solution, much different than the solution to which we have become accustomed.

The Metaphor of the New Benedict

This is difficult for people of a certain age and background. I know that I find that my best efforts at adjusting to this new situation often amount to an attempt to rescue a now far-distant civilization of the past. Memories of a childhood in the American Midwest interfere with fully comprehending this new reality.  Like Benedict of Nursia in late 5th and early 6th Century Europe, the solution is not to restore the Roman Empire. Christians must think outside the box.

Hauerwas reminds us that seeking to restore the lost influence of the Church is neither a wise nor shrewd approach. The approach is to learn to live where we are and to maintain Christianity in the situation we are in today. The metaphor of the New Benedict is intended to warn us that restoring the past is not an option. We must await a new future.

Thus, Hauerwas believes two approaches to our predicament are unlikely to work. The first is the approach of liberal Christianity: a vain attempt to regain the Christian faith’s lost respect by embracing the social-political programs of the left, hoping the gradual evolution of society will restore the Church to its lost role in Western culture. The second approach is that of conservative Christianity: a vain attempt to overthrow the excesses of the Enlightenment and its political practitioners of “real politics” and restore Christendom in some liberal democratic form. Interestingly, Hauerwas has been accused by the left and right of subversively supporting both these approaches. He is a proponent of neither.

Salvation as Discipleship

If the analysis of Hauerwas is correct, then the issue is not how to restore Christendom. The problem is how to sustain the Church in the current era of Western history—and how Christians previously addressed Western society are no longer applicable. The strategies that were appropriate in Western culture when it was at least superficially Christian simply no longer work. During the period of Christendom, it was possible to merely believe those things that one’s Church held to be doctrinally correct and live like the rest of the members of society. Believing a set of propositions, liberal or conservative, left or right, Biblical or modernist, simply misses the point. The question today is this: “Am I behaving like a disciple of Christ?” This means that the church cannot be satisfied with teaching principles. It must instead help people adopt a form of life.

What Hauerwas recommends is what MacIntyre suggests: the formation of “communities of character” in which the virtues, practices, and modes of living demonstrated in the New Testament are learned by Christians so that they may live according to the pattern found in the New Testament, most notably in the live, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Conclusion

The discipleship portion of this series of blogs and the political and theological focus intersect every so often. Hauerwas is one of those occasions. Next week, we shall discuss discipleship as a set of skills that Christians internalize in learning to be like Jesus. In this respect, becoming a disciple is less like learning a profession and more like learning a trade in which one has to use one’s hands. This insight has important implications for disciple-making and the training of pastors. The church seems to have no alternative but to adopt a holistic approach to disciple-making, in which Biblical and doctrinal education are not more important than learning to pray and serve a hostile culture and its elites.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon, Resident Aliens: A Provocative Christian Assessment of Culture and Ministry for People Who Know that Something is Wrong (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014).

[2] Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom?: How the Church is to Behave is Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation are Bad Ideas (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991).

[3] Id, at 23.

[4] Alastair MacIntyre, After Virtue 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984, 261.

The “New Physics,” Process, Sophio-Agapism, and a Harmonic Universe

The “New Physics,” Process, and Sophio-Agapism

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) made significant contributions to Mathematics, Logic, Philosophy of Science, Metaphysics, and other areas of thought. He was instrumental in developing a philosophical outlook known as “Process Philosophy,” of which he is regarded as the founder. Although Whitehead began his academic life at Cambridge (as a mathematician) and then taught in London (as a mathematical physicist and philosopher of education), it was in America at Harvard that he became known as a philosopher and wrote his most famous works.

In 1925, Whitehead published Science and the Modern World (1926). [1] In 1929, he published his Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh as a metaphysical work, Process and Reality. [2] In 1933, he published Adventures of Ideas, his most accessible work and the source of much of what we would call his “political philosophy.” [3] In 1938, he published Modes of Thought, perhaps the most straightforward summary of his ideas. [4]

Science and the Modern World was published in 1926. Only fifteen or so years earlier, in 1905 (sometimes called his “miracle year”), Albert Einstein published a series of papers that introduced his theory of relativity and made significant contributions to quantum physics. Fifteen years is a short time in the history of science. By this time, Whitehead, himself a mathematical physicist, had internalized the new physics of his day and gave a philosophical account of its meaning. Whitehead’s lasting importance flows from his ability to create a metaphysical system compatible with relativity theory and quantum physics.

End of Materialism

From Newton until the early 20th Century, a fundamentally materialistic worldview dominated science and philosophy. In this worldview, what is “real” is matter and material forces acting upon matter. The picture of the universe that emerged with quantum physics was radically different. Fundamental subatomic particles do not appear to be material. Instead, they seem to be what Whitehead calls “patterns” or “vibrations” in a universal electromagnetic field, an emerging disturbance in an underlying field of potentiality. [5] Whitehead recognized that the implications of developments in physics meant the end of the Newtonian worldview and its materialistic premises.

In response, Whitehead developed a “process” or “organic” view of reality in which the fundamental realities events are what he called “actual occasions.” [6] Those actual occasions that take on a stable form over some period of time, Whitehead sometimes calls “actual entities.”  Actual occasions are not fundamentally material but rather a part of a process of becoming. By making the fundamental unity of reality occasions and not particles, Whitehead laid the basis for a non-materialistic metaphysical account of reality.

In defining the fundamental reality as an event or occasion, Whitehead gives metaphysical expression to the fundamental immateriality of what science believes are the basic building blocks of the universe. [7] In so doing, “Whitehead marks an important turning point in the history of philosophy because he affirms that everything is fundamentally an event. What we perceive as permanent objects are events, or, better, a multiplicity and a series of events” that have taken up a stable form. [8] Therefore, the actual world is not fundamentally made up of objects but instead “built up of actual occasions.” [9]

Those things we perceive as stable objects (what Whitehead calls “enduring objects”) are events with an enduring character because of their underlying structure. [10] The vision of the world that Whitehead develops is decidedly not materialistic, for fundamental events are much like the waves that constitute fundamental particles—vibrations or patterns which are capable are not material entities but are capable of becoming so. Higher-order events are built up through structured combinations of actual occasions/objects. In Whitehead’s thought, not only are events primary but so are “structure” or the invisible noetic patterns discernable in actual occasions.

A Social World

Because the notions of pattern and structure are fundamental in Whitehead, the idea of “social order” is basic to his vision of reality. As occasions develop organized and orderly patterns, social order develops, even at a subatomic level. Thus, notions of social and personal order are fundamental because they are the enduring objects or creatures we are familiar with. That is to say, a human being is a society built up of actual occasions. Similarly, everything from rocks to complex social entities or societies of an impersonal type. [11] The development of order over time is a fundamental characteristic of reality, including the existence of human societies.

Early in the development of quantum physics, it was realized that one of its implications was a degree of interconnectedness among the fields of activity that make it up. As previously noted, Einstein’s Relativity Theory, which Whitehead studied and understood, describes a profoundly relational universe in which time and space, ultimate attributes of reality in Newtonian physics, are known to be related to one another and make up a “Space/Time Continuum.” Much of the argument of Science and the Modern World concerns the metaphysical implications of relativity theory, a subject to which Whitehead himself made contributions. In the end, the world that relativity theory describes is fundamentally relational. The absolute space and time of classical Newtonian physics had to give way to a notion of time and space that is fundamentally relational. Time and Space are related and cannot be separated except for purposes of abstract discussion. [12]

At a quantum level of reality, a deep interconnectedness is revealed and symbolized by so-called “spooky action at a distance,” or what physicists call “entanglement.” Reality is deeply connected at a subatomic level. Even at the level of everyday existence, there is a deep interconnectedness that is evident in so-called open systems and their tendency toward self-organizing activity—the so-called “butterfly effect.” [13]

One implication of process thought is based on the idea that relationships constitute reality. Actual occasions combine to form societies, which are fundamental aspects of reality. The essential character of a society is determined by the relationships in which it is located, past, present, and future. [14] A society of whatever character exists as a web of relationships from which it emerged in a process that leads to a future state of the society involved. According to Whitehead, the relatedness of the universe and the societies that make up the physical realities we experience is not merely external but also internal to the society itself. [15] Thus, not only is physical matter secondary, but also physical power.

The notion of reality as a kind of social order has important implications for political thinking. The idea of a society as being built up over time by the gradual unfolding of a social order that is not, at its ultimate basis, material requires a rethinking of any kind of power-based political theory—and casts grave doubt over the exclusion of moral and religious considerations in political decision making.

Humans as a Part of the Process

Newtonian physics posited the existence of an observer outside the events being observed. In addition, all connections between particles were external. Quantum physics has revealed that the observer is a fundamental part of the observed reality. Perhaps more importantly, quantum physics and relativity theory imply a universe of deep interconnection. Reality appears to participate in a profound fundamental, internal unity. As Whitehead puts it,

We awake to find ourselves engaged in process, immersed in satisfactions and dissatisfactions, and actively modifying, either by intensification, or attenuation, or by the introduction of novel purpose. [16]

In other words, all human experience and action, including science, participate in the unfolding process of the universe to which we are inextricably connected.

The relationship of the observer and the observed is illustrated by the so-called “double slit experiment.” If a researcher shines light through two slits, a pattern emerges from the other side, revealing whether light is a wave or a particle. However, the result is, in some sense, determined by our observation. It is as if human conscious involvement creates the effect and defines the character of the photon, and the photon somehow “feels” or senses the observer’s presence.

Process thought shares this view. Human beings are not outside reality but a part of the “World Process,” even our attempts at abstracting ourselves from what we observe are, at best, only partially successful. We are inevitably and inextricably connected to and sense at a deep level the social world of which we are a part. This is true of electrons and also of our families, neighborhoods, communities, nations, and world. What we say and do has an impact, however important or unimportant, on the world we inhabit. These connections are not just external but also internal. As Whitehead[17] puts it, “The whole environment participates in the nature of each of its actual occasions. Thus, each occasion takes its initial form from the nature of its environment.”

A World of Experience “All the Way Down”

One result of quantum physics is the realization that the very act of observing — of asking the question, “Through which slit will each electron pass?” changes the experiment’s outcome. In other words, the experimental results indicate that, in some way, subatomic particles “know,” “sense,” or “feel” the presence of the observer, which determines the outcome of the experiment. [18] Whitehead was well aware of this outcome. In his view, post-modern science implies that experience is a fundamental category of existence. To be is to experience. Even at the most fundamental levels of reality (the level of actual occasions and fundamental particles), a “feeling” or “experience” of reality exists. [19]

Whitehead, of course, understood, but the kind of consciousness that human beings enjoy is not present in fundamental particles, fundamental molecules, fundamental forms of life, and even, perhaps, in some animal life. Nevertheless, there seems to be a form of “feeling” or awareness of connection with surrounding reality at all levels of reality. As the phenomenon of entanglement demonstrates, this awareness of connection may extend to the limits of the universe.

Whitehead uses a technical term, “prehension,” to describe this feeling. [20] It is difficult for human beings to separate consciousness from apprehension. Whitehead, therefore, coined the term “prehension” to describe a form of non-cognitive apprehension as it exists in nature. Prehension is an outgrowth of the fundamental relatedness of reality as each form of existence (actual occasions) “prehends” surrounding reality.

Conscious perception is possible because we have a highly developed central nervous system. But this consciousness is only a tiny part of the considerable amount of consciousness contained in the universe. It would seem that at every level of reality, there is a constantly expanding and more complex form of experience available. All living creatures would seem to have some awareness of their surroundings and of the impacts their surroundings have upon them. In animal life, we see a growing form of awareness. In humans, we see still another form of awareness, but all this “experience” is built upon a kind of awareness or prehension present in the most fundamental aspects of reality.

This world of deep and beautiful order is deep and beautiful on several levels. In some way, the immaterial potentialities of the quantum world emerge, and from the indeterminate world of quantum reality, what we call ordinary reality and the laws of physics emerge. These laws that rule over matter and energy at the most fundamental levels allowed the emergence of what we would call “chemistry,” the basic elements making up the physical universe and their combination, out of which emerged biology, eventually resulting in the emergence of the human race—a race having self-consciousness and the ability to reflect the order of the universe in its relations as well as the ability to create culture, societies, and social structures. From the human race emerge families, society, social organization, law, economic systems, arts, literature, music, morality, religion, and all the myriad of complex social relations that make up any society. [21]

These levels of reality are, in some way, dependent upon each prior level in the emergent hierarchy of reality. Yet, they each possess independent rules, regulations, laws, and order founded on but not identical to the order from which it emerged. Finally, each level of reality participates in an invisible noetic order from which the material order emerges, which itself is emergent, within which various levels of existence have their conceptual order. That is to say, humans can investigate the underlying structure of reality using science and other disciplines. The means of investigation depends on the nature of the order.

This organic, interconnected, and hierarchical view of reality has critical political philosophy and practice implications. Every stable society is built ahead of multiple levels of increasingly complicated participants in the social order. For example, we tend to think that our society is made up of humans who happen to be residents of the United States of America. However, the health and functioning of the society end of the residence depends upon their interconnected participation in the universe that includes all its surrounding physical and non-physical elements.

Not surprisingly, one fundamental application of Whiteheadian philosophy has been in the area of environmental protection. The notion that the world is built up of actual occasions or objects connected by feelings and sense and responds to the existence and presence of one another implies that the members of our society are connected with its environment, human, non-human, organic, organic, and otherwise. If this is true, then it is impossible to have a healthy society that does not consider this web of relationships in which the human participants are located.

A Physical and Mental Universe

One of Whitehead’s contributions to philosophy is how he avoids the mind-body dualism inherent in modern metaphysics. According to Whitehead, every actual occasion has a mental and a physical pole. That is to say, that experience and intelligibility are present in everything from subatomic particles to human beings. In Whitehead’s view, every level of existence possesses mental and physical poles, including quanta, atoms, cells, organisms, the Earth, the solar system, our galaxy, and the universe up to God.  For God, the whole physical universe is the physical pole, and all ideas and forms are the mental pole. [22] In other words, there is no ultimate distinction between mind and matter. Mind and matter are two aspects of a single reality. The potential for the kind of consciousness that human beings possess is, thus, an evolutionary possibility within the structure of the type of universe we inhabit. [23]

There is also no ultimate distinction between those actual occasions that are in some sense alive and those (like rocks) that are not or between the human race and animals. As mentioned above, the mental pole does not imply a consciousness. Returning to the double slit experiment, when quantum physicists speak of a particle as “sensing” the observer, they do not mean to imply that subatomic particles are conscious. This can be hard to understand., but it refers to the fact that experience and intelligibility go all the way down, and therefore, mind, matter, organic and inorganic matter, humans and animals, for all their differences, are also in some sense fundamentally related in an intelligible way. [24]

Applied to political philosophy and social theory generally, Whitehead’s process view encourages investigators to look at the patterns of relationships that make up the society and polity in which one is interested—and to look at them as constantly changing events, not as an object frozen in time. What we sometimes call the American Experiment in Constitutional democracy is a good example. Our political system is not an object to be dissected and understood solely as the power applied to individuals. Instead, it is an event that comprises a complex of constantly changing and evolving relationships. To the extent that our society embraces fundamental values, those values must be continually applied to new and changing realities.

As far as political philosophy is concerned, fundamental “connectedness” implies that our tendency to divide our political world into “us” and “them” is ultimately a false abstraction. We are all part of and inevitably connected to our families, communities, nation, and world, joined in profound ways to those with whom we share all levels of human society. This includes those who disagree with us and those who agree, our political allies, and our opponents. This kind of relatedness casts doubt on the viability of any political philosophy that relies solely on power to the exclusion of other relational factors.

Once again, when one combines the process or event focus of Whitehead’s thought with its social character, one is led away from any notion of the universe as fundamentally constituted of matter and force and away from the idea embedded in our culture through Hobbes of society as fundamentally formed as conglomerations of individuals related to one another by force. Power exists, but it is grounded in a deeper reality, which we shall examine next week as we talk about God, Love, and the gradual movement of human societies from force to persuasion.

The evolution of the universe and human society reflects the propensity of the universe and society to seek the kind of satisfaction that we call “Peace” or “Harmony.”  Whitehead believes his metaphysics has practical implications, which he outlines in his book Adventure of Ideas. Whitehead’s metaphysics supports a view that sees justice as a kind of harmony within the social process that constitutes a society—a goal that policymakers should seek rather than power or ideological victory in the political sphere.

Eternal Objects

To understand Whitehead’s views on the movement from a society based on force to one based on persuasion, it is crucial to understand his notions of reality, God, and universals, what Whitehead calls “Eternal Objects.” As mentioned above, the world in which we live and have our day-to-day existence (what Whitehead sometimes calls the “Actual World”) is built up over long periods through the emergence and relationships of actual occasions. [25] Those things we perceive as stable objects (what Whitehead calls “Enduring Objects”) are events with an enduring character because of their underlying structure. [26]

For Whitehead, however, two objects participate in the emergence of the world of actual occasions that are not themselves actual occasions. These are:

  1. Eternal Objects, which are ideal entities that are pure potentials for realization in the actual world and form the conceptual ground for all actual occasions; [27] and
  2. God is both an Eternal Object and the primordial actual entity; God is not an actual occasion but is present in all occasions. [28]

According to Whitehead, eternal objects are the qualities and formal structures that define actual occasions and related entities. An infinite hierarchy of eternal objects defines each actual entity. This feature permits each real entity to be experienced by future entities in essential ways.

  1. Eternal objects participate in the causal connection of individual entities, functioning as private qualities and public structures, characterizing the growth of actuality in its rhythmic advance from private, subjective immediacy to public, extensively structured fact.
  2. Eternal objects are ideals conceptualized by historical actual entities. As such, they are the potential elements that ensure that the process of nature is not deductive succession but organic growth and creative advancement. [29] This characteristic is essential for understanding such political notions as Justice.

Eternal objects are primordially realized as pure potentials in the conceptual nature of that one unique actual entity, which we call “God.” As realized in God, eternal objects are ideal possibilities or potentialities, ordered according to logical and aesthetic principles, which can be realized in actual occasions. As realized in God, Eternal Objects transcend the historical actual entities in which they are realized. [30]

Persuasion Instead of Force

For Whitehead, God is “actual” (an actual entity) but non-temporal and the source of all creativity, the source of innovation who transmits his creativity in freedom and persuasion. [31] Whitehead’s God has two poles of existence: a transcendent pole, which is primordial, and a consequential or physical pole. The transcendent pole is the “mental pole” of God, wherein one finds the existence of eternal objects.  As primordial, God is eternal, having no beginning or end, and is the ultimate reason for the universe. [32]

God’s consequential or physical pole implies that God is present in the universe and in all actual occasions, which are the physical poles of God’s existence. In this physical pole, God experiences the world and the actualization of eternal objects in actual occasions. Because of God’s physical pole, God can be impacted by and experience actuality. Thus, Whitehead’s God experiences and grows with creation. Process Philosophy uniquely contributes to philosophical and theological ideas in postulating a physical pole to God.

For Whitehead, God is not an all-powerful ruler, a cosmic despot. God is intimately involved in the universe of Actual Occasions and impacts the future not by force but by persuasion. [33] Thus, he says,

More than two thousand years ago the wisest of men proclaimed that the divine persuasion is the foundation of the order of the world, but that it could only produce such order as amid the brute force of the world it was possible to accomplish. [34]

This divine persuasion, the slow working of God in history as love and wisdom, is the hope of the world that the constant resort to force and violence in human affairs can be overcome. Writing before the Second World War, before Hiroshima, and the wars of the last century, Whitehead saw the critical role of faith and all religious groups as instruments for the evolution of the human race towards a more harmonious world based on persuasion, reason, and love rather than brute force. [35] In a much-quoted and beautiful passage, speaking of Christianity in particular, Whitehead writes:

The essence of Christianity is the appeal to the life of Christ as the revelation of the nature of God and of his agency in the world. The Mother, the Child, and the bare manger: the lowly man, homeless and self-forgetful, with his message of peace, love, and sympathy: the suffering, the agony, the tender words as life ebbed, the final despair: and the whole with the authority of supreme victory. I need not elaborate. Can there be any doubt that the power of Christianity lies in its revelation in human life what Plato taught in theory. [36]

The Victory of Persuasion over Force

Plato had taught that the divine agency was persuasive, relying on reason, not coercion, to accomplish the world’s creation. Plato also taught that it was a part of the reordering of the human person by virtue to recover the primordial reliance on reason and persuasion by which the world was created and by which human beings recover an original reasonableness and harmony. This view has obvious implications for political philosophy and political practice. Human freedom and flourishing are dependent upon the emergence of ever-greater harmony and reasonableness in human society, including its political organization.

For Whitehead, “The progress of humanity is defined as the process of transforming society to make the original Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian ideals increasingly practicable for the individual members.” [37] The project of human civilization and every human society and political institution is, therefore, advanced by achieving the victory of persuasion over force. [38] Recalling the words of Plato, Whitehead writes:

The creation of the world—said Plato—is the story of persuasion over force. The worth of men consists in their liability to persuasion. They can persuade and can be persuaded by the disclosure of alternatives, the better and the worse. Civilization is the maintenance of social order by its inherent persuasiveness as embodying the nobler alternative. The recourse to force, however, unavoidable, is a disclosure of the failure of civilization, either in general society or in a remnant of individuals. [39]

Against Hobbes, Whitehead holds that persuasion has always been a part of human society and denies that force is the defining characteristic of human society. He disagrees that human society is “a war of everyone against everyone else.” The social and persuasive side of society may even be older than the recourse to force. The love between the sexes, the love of parents for children and families for one another, and even the communal love of small groups are probably older than brute force as a fundamental aspect of human society. In other words, Whitehead sees that a philosophy compatible with the best understanding of reality must, in every area, abandon the Newtonian emphasis on material objects and force.

This does not mean, however, that force is not an inevitable characteristic of society, for there is and always will be a need for laws, structures, and their enforcement and defense. Forms of social compulsion are an outgrowth of the need for social coordination but are (or at least should be) of themselves the outgrowth of reason. [40] Interestingly, Whitehead believes that Commerce is an essential component in the movement from force to persuasion, for commerce depends upon private parties reaching agreements without recourse to force, which tends to build the capacities for reason and persuasion that a free society requires. [41] The importance of persuasion is consistent with the emphasis on the role of love, cherishing, conversation, and dialogue in human society.

Freedom and Order

Whitehead believes that freedom of thought, speech and action are fundamental to social progress. However, there is always a social need to balance what he calls Individual Absoluteness and Individual Relativity. [42] Generally, Individual Absoluteness refers to the area of human freedom in a society, and Individual Relativity refers to the inevitable need for individuals to limit their freedom for the good of society as a whole and other human beings. In this dichotomy, there is a recognition of how social organization and harmony require some limitations on human freedom.

Creating a harmonic balance between the desires and wills of individuals and the maintenance of a sense of social solidarity in a free society requires an understanding of the relational environment from which the individual emerges and its needs for stability in the midst of unfolding change and how individual freedom results in the emergence of a gradually evolving society. There is always an element of chance in how societies evolve, and the resolution in any given community of the tension between freedom and order can seem the arbitrary result of chance—as it sometimes is. [43]The rate and seriousness of social change can vary within a society over time. If existing institutions are working well, and the citizens and centers of power are relatively content, the rate and dimension of change may be slow. In other situations, the rate of change may be significant. [44]

The adjustments required within a society are determined mainly by what Whitehead calls Instinct, Intelligence, and Wisdom. Instinct, which relates to what Peirce calls “habit,” are inherited modes of organization and action that have become customary for society due to inheritance, individual, and environmental factors. Intelligence includes those theoretical factors that are uncovered by human rational inquiry. Wisdom refers to how instinctual and theoretical elements intertwine in the practical accomplishment of social progress. Wisdom can be of greater or lesser effectiveness depending upon the ability to coordinate and incorporate the primary facts of human existence in decision-making.  [45]

In the end, social progress is made when human actors in the social arena make wise decisions impacting the evolution of human societies, including their political organization. In the same way, social regress occurs when human actors make unwise decisions concerning the evolution of human society, including its political organization. Finally, there is no avoiding this result because every human decision, great and small, impacts the universe in some way, creating a future, opening up some possibilities, and closing others.

In the midst of all this is each human actor making decisions. These decisions impact the human society in which the actor is located for better or for worse. The activity of free human actors is the foundation of all human thought, and any form of tyranny is antithetical to the emergence of a harmonious social order. In a particularly important passage, Whitehead notes:

A barbarian speaks in terms of power. He dreams of the superman with the mailed fist. He may plaster his lust with sentimental morality… But ultimately, his final good is conceived, as one will imposing itself upon other wills. This is intellectual barbarism. [46]

It takes a little imagination to see that Whitehead is referring to Nietzsche. Writing in the United States on the verge of the Second World War, with the terrible political results of Nietzschean thought evident in Germany. Whitehead understood, as we sometimes forget, that freedom requires a willingness to love, reason, persuade, and forgo all forms of force unless absolutely required by the circumstances. The example of Nazi Germany and the various disasters of totalitarian regimes in the 20th century is a clear argument for adopting a “politics of reason and relationship,” called agapio-sophism.

Conclusion

In the end, Whitehead believes that there are four factors which govern the fate of social groups, including our society:

  1. The existence of some transcendent aim or goal greater than the mere search for pleasure;
  2. Limitations on freedom that flow from nature itself and the basic needs of human beings;
  3. The tendency of the human race to resort to compulsion instead of reason, which is fatal to social growth and flourishing if extended beyond necessary limits and
  4. The importance of persuasion that relies upon reason and agreement to resolve social problems. In the end, it is the way of persuasion that holds the hope for social and human flourishing. [47]

Whitehead is important for a sophio-agapic analysis of justice. Through his concept of eternal objects, Whitehead is a noetic realist. He believes that values have a form of reality that can impact events and the evolution of any society, especially a complex political society. As a logician, physicist, and philosopher, his work in developing his metaphysical system indicates an orderliness to reality that can be examined by science and other disciplines, including political philosophy. Finally, his notion of “divine persuasion” is similar to Peirce’s notion of an agapic aspect of reality, including social reality. For Whitehead, human reason and emotions are essential in society, including its political organization. Whitehead’s organic, relational view of reality extends to his view of society and encourages attention to the relationships that make up society beyond mere law and power.

In setting out his organic and social vision of reality, Whitehead is highly sympathetic to a harmonic vision of society and the goal of social justice. What is sometimes referred to as a harmonic theory of justice is also an aesthetic theory of justice. [48] In the end, whitehead is captured by a vision of the search for beauty that dominates all efforts to create a better society in every area. Thus, he says:

Science and Art are the consciously determined pursuit of Truth and of Beauty. In them, the finite consciousness of mankind is appropriating as its own infinite fecundity of nature. In this movement of the human spirit types of institutions and types of professions are evolved. Churches and Rituals, Monasteries with their dedicated lives, Universities with their search for knowledge, Medicine, Law, methods of Trade, – they all represent that aim at civilization, whereby the conscious experience of mankind preserves for each use the sources of Harmony. [49]

In the end, Whitehead’s vision is a  sophio-agapic vision. A vision of a world in which the human search for truth and beauty is a search for harmony. Human society, complete with harmony and disharmony, is a never-ending, evolutionary project in which each person and society can participate in unfolding a better and more just society.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York, NY: Free Press, 1925, 1967), from now on “SMM.”

[2] Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York, NY: Free Press, 1929, 1957), at 90. Hereinafter, “PR.”

[3] A. N. Whitehead, Adventure of Ideas (New York, NY: Free Press, 1933), hereinafter “AI”.

[4] A. N. Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York, NY: Free Press, 1938, 1968).

[5] SMM, at 132.

[6] Whitehead uses the terms “actual occasions” and “actual entities” almost interchangeably. For this reason, I think it might be best to consider a more general term.

[7] PR, 90.

[8] Steven Shaviro, “Deleuze’s Encounter With Whitehead” http://www.shaviro.com/Othertexts/DeleuzeWhitehead.pdf (Downloaded July 18, 2022).

[9] PR, 96-98.

[10] SMM, 132-133.

[11] Id, 40.

[12] Id, 118.

[13] This is not the place for a discussion of these phenomena. For those who would like a deeper discussion, see John Polkinghorne, ed, “The Trinity and an Entangled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010). I have examined this phenomenon before in a blog entitled, “Politics and the Order of the World” at www.gchristopherscruggs.com (July 8, 2020).

[14] SM, 152.

[15] AI, 230.

[16] Id, 46.

[17] Id, 41.

[18] It should be obvious that the words, “know,” sense” or “feel” are used metaphorically. Subatomic particles do not have central nervous systems or brains and are not capable of knowing, sensing, or feeling in human terms. Nevertheless, there exists something at the subatomic level that is best described by reference to the human experience.

[19] AI, 230-233.

[20] SMM, 69.

[21] John Polkinghorne, The Way the World Is: The Christian Perspective of a Scientist (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1983), 22.

[22] PR,128.

[23] Whitehead makes a substantial contribution towards the development of “dual aspect monism” characteristic to more recent thought.

[24] It is beyond the scope of this paper, but the fundamental relatedness and meaningfulness of all reality has ecological as well as political implications.

[25] PR 27, 90.

[26] SMM, 132-133.

[27] PR, 26

[28] Id, 105

[29] Susan Shottliff Mattingly, “Whitehead’s Theory of Eternal Objects” A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy. I am indebted to her for portions of this analysis.

[30] It is beyond the scope of this analysis to exhaustively look at Whitehead’s notion of God. He did view God as an essential element of his metaphysical system as the ground of the order and creative potential of the universe.

[31] Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York, NY: The McMillian Company, 1936), 88.

[32] In Whitehead’s system all actual occasions have both a physical and a mental pole. Thus, intelligibility and the potential for the emergence of mind goes all the way down into the smallest actual entities in the universe.

[33] AI, 166.

[34] Id, 160.

[35] Id, 161. It is beyond the scope of this blog, but Whitehead believes that it is not the existence of dogmatics and religious theories that are the problem with religion, but the attitude of finality with which these opinions are voiced. In this, Whitehead echo’s Pearce. The theories of theologians are evidence of the importance of reason to Christian faith, and reasonableness is one of the ways in which brute force is overcome.

[36] Id, at 167. Plato had taught that the divine agency was persuasive relying on reason not coercion to accomplish his goal.

[37] Id, 17.

[38] Id, 25.

[39] Id, 83.

[40] Id, 69.

[41] Id, 70-84. This is a most interesting discussion in which Whitehead deals with Malthusian economics, and its limitations.

[42] Id, 43.

[43] Id, 44.

[44] Id, 45.

[45] Id, 45-7

[46] Id, 51.

[47] Id, 85-86.

[48] Id, 261. In his chapter on beauty in AI, Whitehead speaks of harmony as the objective of the search for beauty. He also describes the way in which disharmony d

(destruction) and harmony are related. Disharmony requires the searcher for harmony to seek a higher and greater harmony, a new harmony. In the same way, each perception of harmony leads to a perception of its inadequacy, which leads to a greater harmony. This is the aesthetic ground of the progress of justice in society.

[49] Id, 272

Harmonic Politics in a Disharmonious World

For the past two weeks, I’ve been discussing the metaphor of musical harmony as useful in understanding political philosophy and political theology. The classical tradition through Plato and Cicero and the Christian tradition through Augustine use musical metaphors and the notion of harmony to describe the search for a just society. In both traditions, the goal of government is to create social peace. When there is conflict, the goal is to restore social harmony. Social peace is best established in a free society through reasonable means based on shared values.

Events of this week in the Middle East allow me to address one of the most common objections to the viewpoint advanced in these blogs. Many of my friends and commentators suggest that using the word agape, or “self-giving love,” in connection with political reality is misguided. In their view, politics is the search for the advancement of self-interest, including the self-interest of social groups within or between societies. Politics is about the acquisition and use of power, and to bring non-power-related concepts into the discussion is misguided. I respectfully disagree.

The Current Example

Conflict erupted this week, beginning with an incursion from Gaza into Israel. Almost immediately, there were a series of threats and counter-threats on both sides. For the Israelis, the Hamas attack was an act of terrorism. From the perspective of Hamas and its supporters, the violence resulted from prior actions of the Israeli government. Amidst all this, the commentary of a retired American general caught my attention. Discussing what he viewed as the flaws of a prior and the present administration, which he feels represents an unrealistic understanding of international politics, he advanced the view that conflict is the basis of the relationship between nations. Such conflict may be peaceful or violent, but an element of conflict is always present. Those who seek a peaceful resolution of a conflict with a terrorist organization are simply deluded. It is this view that violence and competition sit at the foundation of the world order that I find limited, leading to unwise actions by leaders of the left and the right in innumerable situations.

What is Sophio-Agapism?

I refer to the vantage point of this series of blogs as “Sophio-agapism.” The term underscores the view that politics should be approached from the viewpoint of both a search for wisdom (sophia) and love (agape). In the philosophy of C.S. Peirce, the evolution of human society, like the evolution of the world, is characterized by chance, deterministic features, and agapistic love. To understand what Peirce is trying to say and its practical implications, it is crucial to understand what he means by “agapistic love.” In his “A Guess at the Riddle,” Peirce defines agapistic love as (i) an active bestowal of energy by the lover to the beloved, (ii) a cherishing of the beloved by the lover, (iii) and a positive sympathy on the part of the lover for the benefit of the beloved. [1] Love for Peirce is a kind of bestowal of energy that cherishes and seeks the best for that which is loved. This love is not just a human emotion but emerges as one of the elementary characteristics of the evolving universe.

Peirce begins his analysis of agapism with quotations from the First Letter of John, in which John concludes that “God is love” (I John 4:8,16). Peirce then proceeds to a discussion of the nature of that kind of love we see reflected in the life of Christ and to which John refers, as well as critiquing John’s supposed deviations from the pure gospel of love. Finally, he analyzes its application to evolutionary theory.  Peirce believed that agapism is central to the evolution of the universe and human society, and the other features of evolutionary growth, chance, and necessity are derived from this primordial love. In other words, love is a central characteristic of the world and human societies. It is not an “add-on” or a psychological reaction of certain individuals to harmonies in the world or society. It is a feature of reality itself. In another context, I have called the kind of love to which Peirce refers “Deep Love” or “Deep Relationality.” [2]

On the other hand, one should not overplay the role of love in a political philosophy. Just as the quantum world merges into the world of Newtonian physics, a world of material objects and force-dominated interactions, at the level of human society, the power of love and other factors in human society are impacted and limited by chance or fortuitous events and by the regularity, is created by a political system, an international economic system, and other systemic features that involve material objects and force. As to human society and human relationships, the impact of human freedom and the choices made by others cannot be underestimated. In such an environment, conflict cannot be entirely avoided, and the more irrational and unloving the other actors involved may be, the more likely it is that conflict is inevitable.

Defending a Sophio-Agapistic Political View

In defending a sophio-agapistic approach to political theory, reason moves from the phenomena of relationality embedded in the physical universe to an analysis of the human experience of relationship and then to the emergence of the various kinds of relationality in human society. [3] The variety of ways in which a deep relationality impacts human society can be unfolded by looking at various Greek terms for love as a part of the gradual evolution of the human race and human society. In Greek, there are at least five different relevant terms for love:

  • “eros” or romantic love evoked by desire (ἔρως),
  • “storge” or affection (στοργή),
  • “philia” or brotherly love (φιλία),
  • “pragma” or practical love (πράγμα), and
  • “agape” or self-giving love (αγάπη).

In my view, these loves emerge from the relationality found at the root of creation, in which human beings participate. Human capacity for loving relationality evolved as consciousness and society evolved. Humanity’s capacity for relationality and love has evolved in important and breathtaking ways.

The Emergence of Relationality in Human Society

Reality is multilayered. At the bottom of material reality lies the principles of physics, from which chemistry and biology emerge as independent areas of reality. The human race emerged in a long process of biological and social development, with the result that religion, psychology, sociology, law, and other disciplines also developed due to the capacity of human beings to create human societies and institutions. Each level of reality depends on others yet has its degree of independence. While other levels are relevant and impact higher levels, they do not determine them. [4] At each level of reality, there is continuity, dependence on lower levels, freedom, and openness as new potentials arise. In particular, the unconscious relationality of the universe is now conscious, capable of infinitely more complex relationships on a mental and emotional level.

The emergence of human beings and human society vastly increased the range and kind of potential in the created order, including political options for the understanding and achievement of justice in society. The deep relationality of the universe involves a preference for sound relationships, for what the Jews call shalom, which is often translated as “peace”. Still, it has the more profound connotation of wholeness or completeness of order in life. The human desire and need for social interaction impact societies in the search for justice. In the context of political philosophy, when recognized and developed, what I term “noetic potentials,” such as justice, arise and can guide humans’ day-to-day activities. These noetic potentials develop and “unfold” in and among different societies in different ways. Still, all exemplify the order and symmetry in relationship potential in reality and every social reality.

The Politics of Agapism

For political purposes, all loves have some meaning, but three are most important to any well-functioning society:

  • Philia, which is considered the beloved part of a family or common community;
  • Pragma, which compromises to help the relationship work over time, showing patience and tolerancein sustaining and building a relationship; and
  • Agape, which remains committed, sacrifices, and cherishes even when the beloved, in the case of political love, a society, is unworthy. It is a commitment over time to the other.

These three loves are important to a functional society, particularly a functioning democratic society. Philia is that social bond we have because of a common family with shared norms and institutions of meaning. Societies need a sense of common history, background, life order, etc. Humans instinctively cling to family, close friendships, fellow believers, co-workers, etc. It is more than posturing when people speak of a business, a neighborhood, or even a nation as a family, or even of the “family of nations.”

As past events demonstrate, philia can negatively impact social relationships, where the bonds of a common family, race, religion, or cultural heritage overcome all other relational ties and create conflict. While all societies need a sense of community, social brotherhood, and sisterhood, where historic racial and other characteristics dominate, they can lead to conflict. The conflict in the Middle East between Jews and Arabs is a great example of this phenomenon. It is made more difficult by the religious differences between Judaism and Islam.

Pragma is that love that allows members of a society to tolerate differences and build a common society that benefits all, making the necessary compromises for any society to function. Pragma recognizes that society requires its members to be patient and loyal, even in times of stress. [5] Pragma encourages compliance with laws, even those with whom one privately disagrees, to advance the group’s common good. Pragma is “pragmatic” in that it accepts and nurtures the other to maintain a relationship of practical worth to the lover.

From a political perspective, pragma is an important form of love. Within a society, it is important to build social solidarity. On the other hand, there is a pragma among nations and societies. That is to say, we inhabit one world, and in that one world, it is in the best interests of everyone to create as much harmony as possible and to avoid destructive conflict. It is the viewpoint of this series of blogs that developing an intercultural, international pragma is of the first importance.

At the top of the pyramid of love is agape. Agape is that love willing to sacrifice for the good of the whole. Agape also means giving others the right and capacity to achieve their goals despite our questions concerning their reasonableness or desirability. Agape respects the freedom of the other and hopes for the flourishing of the other. Agape is a love that bestows itself on the deserving and underserving alike. Shared history or calculations of personal self-interest do not limit the love that is agape.

Agape is the highest form of Christian love but also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of “universal loving kindness” in Buddhism. [6] In Latin, agape is translated as “charitas,” from which we get our word “charity.”  This usage 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 the free act of the lover. Agape is not a love evoked by desire but bestowed upon its recipient. Agape is not a love that can be commanded or required; it must be bestowed upon people and society by the action of free people. In international politics, agape is present, where those with power deliberately use less than all the power at their disposal in the interest of something higher—peace and harmony among people and social groups.

Agape is not unnecessary in human affairs, even amid conflict. Wise leaders avoid conflict and, when in a conflict, seek to minimize the damage and estrangement all conflict involves. As I put it in another context:

Wise leaders shun violence and conflict. This is the virtue of avoiding violence and conflict: the ability to manage people and situations as gently as snow falls on a winter day.

The best policy is this: Avoid conflict if at all possible.

If conflict arises, the best policy is this: Avoid unnecessary destruction. If conflict continues, the best policy is this: Seek a just solution. If conflict reaches a conclusion, the best policy is this: Show mercy and restore good relations. [7]

Even in conflict, the agapist approach involves self-control and the search for peace, even at personal and social cost—the cost of sacrificing to avoid and minimize violence.

The Current Situation

The conflict in the Middle East, Ukraine, and other areas can appropriately be analyzed using the ideas of sophio-agapism. Both Garza and the Ukraine are in the process of being utterly destroyed by constant bombardment in military action. When these conflicts are over, it will take years to rebuild the social and physical infrastructure being destroyed. In addition, because military activities breed resentment, the resentment created will be present no matter who wins the conflict. The Russians and the Western powers should consider the negative consequences of the Ukraine conflict, and Israel and Hamas should consider the negative impacts of the conflict in Gaza, no matter who wins. A victory that does no more than create even more embedded social hostility is unlikely to further the cause of peace in the long run.

Just War Pacifism and Sophio-Agapism

Some years ago, I suggested in a meeting that the political philosophy of John Paul II could be termed “just war pacifism.” My colleague in the conversation, a professor of philosophy, disagreed with my analysis that one could conceive of a form of pacifism that embraced just war theory and a form of just war theory that embraces pacifism. Nevertheless, I continue to think that this is a valuable way of thinking.

Plato, George Santayana, and General Douglas MacArthur are all recorded as saying, “Only the dead will never know war again.” War is a social reality that appears to be a permanent feature of human history. While it is the duty of every person to avoid conflict and war if at all possible, it’s also in the best interest of every human being to see that where war is being conducted, it is conducted in such a way as to lead to the least possible loss of life, and especially the life of innocents, and conducted in such a way as to make a peaceful result, and a more harmonious, social future more likely.

In the past few days, our televisions and media have been filled with images of the results of a horrific terror attack in which noncombatants, men, women, and children were killed and, in some cases, tortured and killed. No possible construction of just war theory condones this behavior. The inevitable human reaction is to want to make the person who did this pay, leading to more violence. For some months now, the citizens of Ukraine have been the subject of a dehumanizing conflict in which innocent noncombatants have become victims of violence. Violence has led to more violence. Human lives and human social solidarity are being destroyed.

Unfortunately, the situation in Gaza gives rise to yet another conundrum: when a terrorist organization is leading an entire social group, are members of that society willingly or unwillingly participating in the injustice of their leaders? This is precisely the conundrum that Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced in Germany before and during World War II and is not, in principle, resolvable. It is only solvable in a concrete case facing a concrete person. The citizens of Gaza and those opposing them must decide what to do to create a peaceful social environment.

Socio-agapism, when used as a principle of action in any area, is not a philosophy of weakness or inaction. It is a philosophy of wise engagement to achieve the best result for all. Even where a leader or society is in a position of great power, socio-agapism establishes a principle of wise calculation of the best interests of all involved with the belief that the best interests of all involved are also in each party’s best interests to a conflict. Socio-agapism does not provide an easy solution to all conflicts or give precise guidance to leaders. It suggests a path involving the relentless and sometimes costly search for social harmony and peaceful relationships within and among social groups.

I must conclude this week’s blog. I intend to return to the issue of just war pacifism near the end of these blogs. Those who believe that Christianity must embrace relentless pacifism will not like the conclusions of this week’s blog. Those who believe in “real politics” will also reject the notion that the search for social harmony and peace is fundamental. It’s contrary to their idea of the relentless conflict in competition among nations and social groups in which only victory removes conflict. My basic response to this point of view is that peace cannot be achieved “until swords made into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:12; Micah 4:3). This is the eschatological hope that leads all right-thinking persons to embrace the search for peace.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] “Guess at the Riddle” in Essential Writings, 249-250.

[2] See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Tao Te Ching Adapted for Christ-Followers Rev. Ed. (Permisio Por Favor/BookSurge, 2016).

[3] This entire section is taken from G. Christopher Scruggs, A “Sophio-Agapic Approach to Political Philosophy: a Constructive “Post-ideological Proposal” (Unpublished Manuscript, October 11, 2023).

[4] John Polkinghorne, One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology (Philadelphia, PA: Templeton Foundation, 2007), 102 and Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion (London, ENG: SPCK, 2005).

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

[6] Id.

[7] G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Tao Te Ching Adapted for Christ-Followers Rev. Ed. (Permisio Por Favor/BookSurge, 2016), 136.

The Harmony of Deep Light

The Privileged Position of Light

The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light” Gen. 1:1-3). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as the “the true light that gives light to everyone” John 1:9). Throughout history, light has been connected with the divine, and in particular with the divine reason that permeates the universe. The great theologian Thomas Torrance observed that the status of light as orderly, invariable, constant, and unsurpassable, a status confirmed by relativity theory, points to the ultimate light, the uncreated light of God, which serves as the ground of the rationality and order of creation itself. [1]

The Nature of Created Light

Visible created light consists of photons, massless packets of energy, each traveling with wavelike properties at the speed of light.  The light that we can see with our eyes is simply that part of the electromagnetic spectrum that human eyes can see.[2] A photon carries energy proportional to the radiation frequency but has zero rest mass. In other words, photons are not physical but wavelike. Photons are the smallest unit (quantum) of energy, and the realization that light traveled in discrete quanta was the origin of Quantum Theory.

Christian Huygens proposed that light was composed of waves traveling through the “ether,” an invisible substance thought to permeate space. This view contradicted the views of Newton, who felt that light was made up of particles, a view that a majority of physicists originally accepted Newton’s theory that is materialistic and corpuscular. Light is a thing.

In 1801, Thomas Young conducted what is known as a double-slit experiment. In the experiment, a side-by-side beam of light was sent through two small holes. When this was done, the light passing through them formed a pattern. At regular intervals, the intersecting ripples emanating from the two holes interfered constructively—combining to make brighter light—or destructively—canceling one another out. This behavior indicated that light was a wave-like phenomenon. The work of James Clerk Maxwell gave this theory much support. Maxwell developed the theory of light as a disturbance or wave in a continuous electromagnetic field. This was a strong confirmation of Young’s ideas.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Max Planck developed quantum theory, theorizing that the mysterious behavior of light could be understood by considering light to be electromagnetic waves divided into individual packets or “quanta.” This is the beginning of what we call “quantum theory.”  In 1905, Albert Einstein theorized that light behaves as both a particle and a wave, with the energy of each particle of light corresponding to the wave’s frequency. His theorizing won him the Nobel Prize in 1921 (the year my parents were born). This was the beginning of the strange duality of light in orthodox quantum theory.

            Currently, light is considered an excitation in an electromagnetic field capable of exhibiting paradoxical features consistent with wave-like and particle-like behavior. So-called quantum fields, such as the electromagnetic field, are a kind of energy-generating potential spread throughout space. Today, physicists think of every particle, including photons, as an excitation of a quantum field.  [3]  String theory holds that reality, including photons, is composed of infinitesimally small vibrating strings, smaller than atoms, electrons, or quarks. According to this theory, as the strings vibrate, twist, and fold, they produce effects that explain phenomena from particle physics to large-scale phenomena like gravity. [4] String theory sees photons as rotational vibrations (an oscillation in an electromagnetic field) in a one-dimensional string.

An Illumined Universe Made of Light

Nikola Tesla, for whom the car is named, is famously, if possibly erroneously, reported to have said, “Everything is light.”  There is some truth to the statement. Most people are familiar with Einstein’s general theory of relativity and the famous equation E=MC2. This theory implies that mass and energy are potentially convertible into one another. This is the foundation of the atomic bomb,

The “Big Bang” theory combines Einstein’s general theory of relativity with the discoveries astronomy has made concerning the universe’s evolution to reach conclusions concerning the beginning of the universe.  Thus, what is called the “Big Bang Theory” is an attempt to explain the universe’s origin based on the current status of physics and the information we have about the universe’s evolution. The theory supposes that the universe begins at a point of infinite density. At the initial moment (creation), there was nothing but a very hot and rapidly expanding cosmic soup of protons, neutrons, and electrons. This is the bang.

 About 300,000 years after the Big Bang, referred to as the “Era of Recombination,” photons began attaching as electrons to atoms, and the universe went from being opaque to transparent. This is the point of the earliest light astronomers can observe, what we call cosmic background radiation. Over the next nearly 14 billion years, the universe as we know it evolved. 5 The universe consists mostly of photons, which means that in some special sense, light is a primary attribute of the created order.

A Universe Illumined by Uncreated Light

While involved in a difficult leadership situation some years ago, I wrote Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love. [5] It was a Christian adaptation of the Chinese classic, the Tao te Ching. The book was a guide, so to speak, as to spiritual leadership, even in times of crisis and conflict. As the Preface indicates, it was born of my feeling that I was losing my center in Chris while trying to serve God in a highly conflicted situation.

One of the chapters of the paraphrase begins like this:

There was a beginning when the One Who Is created all things. All things were created and are yet being created by the Word and its Deep Light, as Deep Love seeks orderly peace ( Chapter 22).

Deep Light

What is this “Deep Light” of which I was speaking? It is not a physical light. It is a spiritual reality that underlies the created order and the physical light that illuminates our lives. It is the wisdom of God. It is the rationality that pervades our universe.  I go on to define the term in the book:

Deep Light: The Apostle John teaches that “God is light” when he says, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). This Divine Light is the divine ground of reason, which existed before the created order. The “Logos,” or Divine Reason, is immanent in the cosmos. In God, Divine Love and Divine Wisdom exist in harmony so that love is not separated from wisdom. God’s rationality never fails to act in love.  [6]

Deep Love

In addition to Deep Light, the universe also embodies a deep love. In these blogs, I have had the opportunity in the past to talk about the phenomenon of “Entanglement” and the deep relationality that seems to be present in the created universe. This created relationality points toward an uncreated relationality. Christians believe created relationality reflects the relationship within the God-Head, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God in Three Persons, exhibiting eternal, endless, self-giving love.

I defined this Deep Love as follows in Centered Living/Centered Leading:

Deep Love: In First John, the Apostle also teaches that “God is love.” John says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). John goes on to define the nature of this Deep Love when he says, “This is how we know what love is, Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The Deep Love of God is a sacrificial, suffering love. This kind of love works for the restoration, redemption, and renewal of the world. It was revealed most clearly by Jesus Christ on the cross. [7]

Our Harmonious Universe

Notice that the end of the passage, quoted from Centered Living/Centered Leading, reads, “All things were created and are yet being created by the Word and its Deep Light by the Word and its Deep Light, as Deep Love seeks orderly peace.” In other words, divine, uncreated Deep Light and Deep Love aims to promote harmonious peace. This notion of peace drawn from the Christian tradition goes beyond the absence of conflict. It involves wholeness, completeness, perfection, well-being, harmony, prosperity and tranquility. The peace comes when all things are in their proper place.

The notion of harmony as fundamental to the universe is deeply rooted in human history. The rational symmetries of the universe and its fundamental relatedness point to the conclusion that harmony lies at the root of our ideas of justice, wholeness, morality, peace, or shalom. This deeper harmony is a transcendent harmony that sits at the foundation of the created universe.

Our Lost Harmony

Faced with the deep rationality and relationality of the universe, why, then, do we see so little harmony in nature, in families, in society, and in political institutions? This is a question that is well worth asking, even though we can never have a complete answer. What we know for sure is that there are a lot of destructive disharmonies in nature, human beings, and human society. Something is not quite right. Christians believe Christ is the answer to restoring the harmonies of nature.

Here is the way the writer of Colossians puts it:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:15-20).

When we call Jesus “The Way,” we are indicating that following Christ is how humans can restore the lost harmony of our universe and our lives. The very image of the invisible God, his divine beauty, rationality, and love, was embodied in the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is behind the Apostle Paul’s idea that creation itself yearns for its lost Shalom:

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:19-22).

In some way, the disharmony of the entire universe reflects an incompletion, a defect that creation itself desires to be undone. Christians believe that, on the Cross, Christ took the first step in effectuating a remedy for that disharmony by an act of complete self-giving love. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God continues to work for harmony, peace, and shalom in and through those willing to open their lives to God, the Word, and the divine desire for peace. This is not easy. It is painful. The question is, “Do we want to participate?”

Conclusion

Is this all just wishful thinking? All I can say is that the destructive conflict that gave birth to Centered Living/Centered Leading continued for some time. Led by the idea of a divine reason and love at work in creation, the organization I led avoided litigation, extensive damage, many broken relationships, and other consequences of disharmony that others experienced. In at least one subsequent conflict, I saw signs that the insight was correct. I believe that our current social disharmony would be much alleviated by leadership willing to seek and suffer to discover the Deep Light and work for renewal in the power of Deep Love.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, “The Theology of Light” in Christian Theology and Scientific Culture (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 1980, 1998), 80-81).

[2] Oxford Instruments, “What is Light?-An Overview of the properties of Light” at  https://andor.oxinst.com/learning/view/article/what-is-light(Downoaded October 4, 2023).

[3] Amanda Soliday and Kathrin Jepsen, “What is a Photon?” in Symmetry, (June 28, 2021) at https://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/what-is-a-photon?language_content_entity=und (downloaded October 4, 2023).

[4] Clarles Woods & Vicky Stien “What is String Theory?” in Space.com (May 18, 2023) at www.space.com/17594-string-theory.html (DownloadedOctober 4, 2023).

[5] G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Tao Te Ching Adapted for Christ-Followers Rev. Ed. (Permisio Por Favor/BookSurge, 2016), 104.

[6] Id, at 165.

[7] Id, at 165.

Thoughts on our Harmonic Universe and the Need for Social Harmony

In the Silmarillion, in a section entitled “Ainulindalë,” J.R.R. Tolkien has the Creator Eru Ilúvatar make the “Ainur” as the offspring of his thoughts, what we might call “angels.” [1]  These angelic beings have been given gifts of reason, harmony, and freedom. At the beginning of time, Eru Ilúvatar teaches them how to sing. Initially, they sing in harmony as Eru Ilúvatar reveals the “Great Music.”  The Great Music is lovely and has a theme of deep harmony and beauty. Unfortunately, Melkor, the most powerful of the Ainur, begins to sing louder and differently than the others in hopes of increasing his importance.

 This music introduced discordance into the music—a discordance that grows and becomes ultimately repetitive and violent. Ilúvatar finally arises and tells the Ainur: “No theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.” [2] He then shows the Ainur the result of their music: the World amid the Void. To their surprise, the Ainur discover that by singing their melodies, they have created a habitation for the children of Ilúvatar, elves, and men, who were not present in the original theme. Finally, the Creator says, “Eä! Let these things Be!” and gives life to the model that the choir of the Ainur has shaped. [3] Thus, the history of Tolkien’s imaginary world begins.

Both Tolkien and C. S. Lewis developed creation mythologies that have musical themes. [4] One might think that this is accidental, but I think otherwise. Both were university professors, and both were probably familiar to at least some degree with both ancient Platonic philosophy and the discoveries of modern physics. Those familiar with this blog know that I believe the findings of contemporary physics have increasingly superseded a worldview we have accepted for 300 years and perhaps return us to a more classical worldview. Unfortunately, these discoveries have not yet informed our daily lives and the decision-making capacities of our leaders.

Physics and a Harmonic Universe

The beginning of the 20th century saw a revolution in physics as Relativity Theory replaced the Newtonian notions of Absolute Time and Space, and Quantum Physics developed a view of reality at odds with Newtonian materialism. From a physical perspective, quantum physics indicates that the ultimate reality (the “ultimate being” from a scientific point of view) is that particles are not material bodies but disturbances in a universal field. There are even physicists who believe that a fundamental reality is information. In the words of John Wheeler, “The ‘it’ is a’ bit’.” [5] However, fundamental reality is to be visualized, science no longer supports a purely materialistic approach to solving problems because reality is not fundamentally material.

By the 1020s, the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead recognized that matter, atoms, and subatomic particles of whatever kind were not matter. Rather, they appeared to be what Whitehead calls “patterns” or “vibrations” in a universal electromagnetic field, an emerging disturbance in an underlying field of potentiality. [6]

The idea of reality as being ultimately composed of patterns or vibrations almost automatically introduced the concept of harmonics into physics and metaphysics. This development was given additional emphasis by the development of what is called “String Theory.” Now, the “strings” of string theory are not physical strings like the strings of a guitar. They are one-dimensional objects existing in what physicists call “Hilbert Space.” The harmonics of these strings are not musical but mathematical. Not all physicists buy into string theory or the musical metaphor often used to support it. Furthermore, many quasi-New Age blather can be found on the internet using string theory to support musical explanations of the world that are themselves metaphors built upon a metaphor. Not much of it has a scientific basis.

And yet….

Edward Whitten, a professor of physics and mathematical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, described String theory as follows:

String theory is an attempt at a deeper description of nature by thinking of an elementary particle not as a little point but as a little loop of vibrating string. One of the basic things about a string is that it can vibrate in many different shapes or forms, which gives music its beauty. If we listen to a tuning fork, it sounds harsh to the human ear. And that’s because you hear a pure tone rather than the higher overtones that you get from a piano or violin that give music its richness and beauty.

So in the case of one of these strings it can oscillate in many different forms—analogously to the overtones of a piano string. And those different forms of vibration are interpreted as different elementary particles: quarks, electrons, photons. All are different forms of vibration of the same basic string. Unity of the different forces and particles is achieved because they all come from different kinds of vibrations of the same basic string[7]

One of the proponents of the metaphor of music and string theory wrote recently:

That the world around us possesses musical attributes has been a preferred theme of philosophers and mystics since the early days of Western culture. The relationship has also been emphasized by highly regarded scientists, from Johannes Kepler, in the seventeenth century, to Edward Witten…. However, the exact nature of this relationship has been subjected to different interpretations through the centuries. For example, the mystical stance sustained by Pythagoras more than two millennia ago, concerning a musical universe, diverges substantially from that proposed by contemporary string theorists. Thus, even though string theorists claim, as many before them did, that their physical universe has something to do with music, their association is unique. It cannot be reduced to previous conceptions. [8]

This quotation shows that those who use a musical metaphor in connection with string theory are part of a long tradition recognizing the importance of music and its metaphorical application and explanatory power in various contexts.

A Pythagorean Interpretation of Reality

Those who support the harmonic interpretation of the universe normally begin with the thought of Pythagoras. According to Pythagoras, celestial music permeates the universe, which corresponds to a mathematical harmony. Pythagoras noticed the harmonious movements of the heavens and other harmonies that gave rise to his mystical, even religious belief in a harmonic universe. We human beings participate in their harmonic universe and can create discord in the universe as the divine harmony is warped by human behavior.

Pythagoras deeply influenced Plato. In the last part of the Republic, Plato introduced his own harmonious theory of the creation of the universe. [9] Specifically, Plato’s musical theory was both mathematical and idealistic. The musical harmony of the universe was an eternal and changeless reality in a world of pure thought, the world of the forms. For Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a founder of modern science, there was an element of harmony between music and the universe. Kepler believed the universe was imbued with rational thought, a harmonic, though inaudible, music. Thus, Kepler believed the planets move in a mathematical cosmic harmony. For him, the idea of musical harmony of creation was not a metaphor. In his view, the universe’s harmony reflects the Trinity’s harmony. [10]

This notion of a harmonic connection to reality was not accidentally or idiosyncratically imported into physics; many of the founders of modern physics, from Einstein on, were musical and interested in music. [11] Brian Green, author of The Elegant Universe, has written:

Music has long since provided the metaphors of choice for those puzzling over questions of cosmic concern. From the ancient Pythagorean “music of the spheres” to the “harmonies of nature” that have guided inquiry through the ages, we have collectively sought the song of nature in the gentle wanderings of celestial bodies and the riotous fulminations of subatomic particles. With the discovery of superstring theory, musical metaphors take on a startling reality, for the theory suggests that the microscopic landscape is suffused with tiny strings whose vibrational patterns orchestrate the evolution of the cosmos. The winds of change, according to superstring theory, gust through an aeolian universe. [12]

Conclusion

Augustine quotes Cicero speaking through the voice of Scipio using a musical analogy as follows:

In the case of music for strings or wind, and in vocal music, there is a certain harmony to be kept between the different parts, and if this is altered or disorganized the cultivated ear finds it intolerable; and the united efforts of dissimilar voices are blended into harmony by the exercise of restraint. In the same way, a community of different classes, high, low, and middle, unites, like the varying sounds of music, to form a harmony of the different parts through the exercise of rational restraint, and what is called harmony in music answers to concord in a community, and is the closest bond of security in a country. And this is not possible without justice.  [13]

Social harmony requires social justice, and social justice is created when all the various components of society find their proper place and receive their due reward in a social concord that allows the society to prosper. This goes classes to include all of the elements of a functional society.

The idea that human society and ideals, such as justice, reflect a “bias for harmony” that is part of the created order intrigues me. Most of the time, the adjustments we make in societies, from the family onward, have to do with restoring or creating harmony in the social system. The metaphor of music that was attractive to Cicero and Augustine and the meditations of philosophers from Pythagoras and Plato onward lead some credence to this notion.  In addition, the idea of harmonics is part of a greater theory of morality and ideals as related to aesthetics, a concept that many people find attractive. The idea that the universe is somehow harmonic is worth exploring. If it is true, it is obvious that we humans are part of that harmonic universe.

The idea of harmony as being fundamental to reality comports with the notion that a sound social order is characterized by what the Jews called “Shalom” and what we often call “Peace.” Whatever one may say about the condition of modern society, and perhaps particularly Western society, there is a distinct lack of Shalom. Perhaps a concentration of rebuilding social harmony, as opposed to the politics of division and hate, would be a nice idea.

Copyright 2023, G, Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (Boston, MA: Houghlin Mifflin, 1977).

[2] Id, at 17.

[3] This introduction was suggested to me by Andrej Strocaŭ, “The Music of Creation in Tolkien andLewis” in The Wheel  (2021) found at https://static1.squarespace.com/static/54d0df1ee4b036ef1e44b144/t/608ec56a38080d367214e447/1619969387589/04_Strocau.pdf (Downloaded September 25, 2023).

[4] For Lewis, the analogy is found in his work, The Magicians Nephew which has been published as a part of the Narnia Series. C. S. Lewis, The Magicians Nephew (New York, NY HarperCollins; Reprint edition (March 5, 2002).

[5] See, Paul Davies, Niels Henrik Gregerse, Information and the Nature of Reality – From Physics to Metaphysics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011). The term was coined by renowned physicist John Wheeler.

[6] A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York, NY: Free Press, 1925, 1967), at 132.

[7] Nova, The Elegant Universe “An Interview with Edward Witten” at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/view-witten.html (downloaded September 25, 2023). At this point, I must reveal that my mathematical abilities are not sufficient to understand String Theory in depth nor to understand fully its defenders and opponents.

[8] “The Music of Superstrings” Part I of IV at http://spinningthesuperweb.blogspot.com/2008/04/2-music-of-superstrings-i.html (downloaded September 25, 2023).

[9] One sad aspect of contemporary education is that contemporary students, unlike C. S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, do not study the classics. In my time, the study of the classics had fallen out of most academic curricula. I believe that the mathematical and musical interpretation of creation, suggested by their mythology, was deeply influenced by their familiarity with classical literature, especially Plato.

[10] “The Music of Superstrings” Part II of V.

[11] Id, at III of V.

[12] Michael Greene, The Elegant Universe 2nd Rev. Ed (New York, W.W. Norton Company, 2003).

[13] Cicero, On the Commonwealth tr. George Holland Sabine & Stanley Barney Library of the Liberal Arts, ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1929), 183. Augustine studied and appreciated Cicero.

Constitution 14: Sixteenth Amendment, Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

I promised to return this fall to the series of blogs on the Constitution. Previously, I briefly examined the Constitution and Amendments 1 through 15. I stopped with the Civil War Amendments that dealt with ending slavery and its consequences.  Today, we come to the 16th Amendment. There is probably no amendment less popular among nearly everyone who pays taxes in the 16th Amendment, which made possible the living of income taxes on American citizens! It reads as follows:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Despite being unpopular, there is probably no single constitutional provision adopted after the Civil War with more impact on American society and the emergence of the United States as a world power. Without the income tax, the modern welfare state, the participation of America in the two great World Wars of the 20th century, the creation of the military-industrial complex, the huge federal bureaucracy, and the position of America in the world would have been impossible. [1]

Reasons for Passage of the Amendment

During the years after the Civil War, the industrialization and urbanization of America, together with the expansion of the role of the United States of America in the world, created the need for additional federal income. Progressive groups especially felt that it was necessary to tax the wealthiest segment of society in a way that protected the interests of the poor and middle class. In 1894, Congress passed the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, which created an income tax provision of 2% on incomes of over $4,000 (equivalent to $135,951.63 in 2022 U.S. Dollars). [2]

During the Civil War, a similar tax was used to pay the expenses of the war. It was expected that the Supreme Court would use the same reasoning it had used in upholding the Civil War tax to uphold the income tax. [3] That was not the case. In 1895, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., holding unconstitutional Congress’s attempt the prior year to tax incomes uniformly throughout the United States. [4]

 Article I of the original Constitution gave Congress the general authority to “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imports, and Excises.” For “direct” taxes, Article I provided that taxes must be collected based on the population of the states. Before an income tax was established, the majority of funds given to the federal government derived from tariffs on domestic and international goods.  [5] That is, citizens of Virginia could not be made to pay taxes greater than citizens of New York. Since an income tax taxes personal or corporate income, it was inevitable that the burden of an income tax would fall on wealthier states with wealthier citizens.  The Sixteenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, expressly provides that Congress has the power to collect an income tax without apportionment among the States and without regard to population. Thus, the Sixteenth Amendment creates an income tax exception to the requirement in Article I that direct taxes must be apportioned based on states’ population.

Interpretive Issues 

By its terms, the Sixteenth Amendment applies to “taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.” The empowerment of the Sixteenth Amendment does not extend beyond “incomes” to property taxation or other forms of taxation not permitted by the Constitution. [6] Of course, the term income itself is not entirely clear, and there has been continuing subsequent litigation on what exactly constitutes income for the Sixteenth Amendment. [7] The basic holding of the Court was that: “Income may be defined as the gain derived from capital, from labor, or from both combined, including profit gained through sale or conversion of capital.” [8] This seems simple, but stock dividends and stock issued in reorganizations and the like, and other cases, raise difficult issues. [9]

Internal Revenue Code

Obviously, the nature of the income tax, corporate and individual, gave rise to the need for additional law and administrative interpretation.  The Internal Revenue Code embodies the lineal descendant of the income tax act passed in 1913 following ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment contains the basic tax laws of the United States. [10] The federal Internal Revenue Code is approximately 2,412,000 words long, and federal tax regulations are 7,655,000 words long. These numbers do not include the substantial body of tax-related revenue rulings and case law that is often vital to understanding the tax code. [11] This has resulted in calls for simplification.

Tax Resistance

Every so often, someone fails to pay their income taxes based upon arguments concerning the legality of the Federal income tax. The arguments vary. This blog will not cover all of them. In all cases, the courts have overwhelmingly supported the government against taxpayers making specious objections to the code and the income tax system created by the Sixteenth Amendment.

A common argument is that the Sixteenth Amendment is somehow invalid because it was not properly adopted. The courts have held that this argument is baseless. This argument is based on the premise that all federal income tax laws are unconstitutional because the Sixteenth Amendment was not officially ratified or because the State of Ohio was not properly a state at the time of ratification.  Unfortunately for those taking this position, the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified by forty states, including Ohio (which was confirmed as a state as of 1803). [12] Shortly thereafter, two other states ratified the amendment. Under Article V of the Constitution, only three-fourths of the states are needed to ratify an Amendment. More than three-fourths of states ratified the Sixteenth Amendment without Ohio to complete the number needed for ratification. After the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the income tax laws. [13] Since then, courts have consistently upheld the constitutionality of the federal income tax. [14]

 Some individuals want to believe that a religious objection to income taxes eliminates their duty to pay them. the Supreme Court held that the broad public interest in maintaining a sound tax system is of such importance that religious beliefs in conflict with the payment of taxes provide no basis for refusing to pay, stating that “[t]he tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.” [15] We can safely assume that if religious objections were a valid basis to avoid taxes, America would become a much more religious nation.

Finally, some individuals have taken the position that taxpayers may refuse to pay federal income taxes based on religious or moral beliefs or on an objection to using taxes to fund certain government programs. Some of these persons mistakenly invoke the First Amendment and, often, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, freedom of speech and religious opinion do not extend to failure to pay taxes. The Sixteenth Amendment does not provide a right to refuse to pay income taxes on religious or moral grounds just because taxes are used to fund government programs opposed by the taxpayer or which violate a deeply held belief. It is also settled law that RFRA does not afford a right to avoid payment of taxes for religious reasons. [16] Once again, if personal moral or religious objections to certain programs or policies were to be a valid objection to paying taxes, there would be vast numbers of people (myself included) that would object to all or a part of the spending of the government. No government could possibly allow or survive such a rule.

Calls for a Wealth Tax

One issue of current importance is the call of some for a wealth tax to eliminate the great wealth disparities of our nation. The prior discussion shows readers that a wealth tax would be difficult to sustain. The Sixteenth Amendment avoided imposing restrictions on unapportioned taxes for income defined as incomes from whatever source derived. The Sixteenth Amendment would probably not support a Wealth Tax because such a tax is a tax on capital, not income. Additionally, a wealth tax likely would be considered an unapportioned direct tax and, therefore, unconstitutional. Some believe a wealth tax could be sustained based on an early Supreme Court decision in Hylton v. United States, which upheld a tax on the carriages for the conveyance of persons (an early excise tax on consumption transactions).[17]  In Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co, the court took the view that Hylton sustained the carriage tax as a tax on the use and an excise.”[18] To validate a wealth tax, it would be necessary to overrule Pollock, a tactic urged by some. [19]

Conclusion

A discussion of the implications of the Sixteenth Amendment might take up millions of pages, as does the code and its interpretations. For now, it is enough to know that this one Amendment opened up a new taxation regime to fund an expansion of Federal power. It also created an entirely new area of the law that occupies thousands of lawyers, accountants, and others daily. Its importance cannot be overstated.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] I would like to emphasize that this paragraph is not meant to indicate that the tax and the emergence of America as a world power were bad things. In fact, the reasons that progressive Americans gave for the adoption of the tax are as valid today as they were then. In fact, the emergence of the “super-rich” internationally gives reason to ponder the reasons for the adoption of the income tax and the potential application of those reasons today.

[2] Act of Aug. 27, 1894 9, § 27, 28 Stat. 509, 553 (1894).See, “Constitutional Amendments – Amendment 16 – “Income Taxes” at www.reaganlibrary.gov/constitutional-amendments-amendment-16-income-taxes (Downloaded September 16, 2023).

[3] Springer v. United States, 102 U.S. 586 (1861).

[4] Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., 157 U.S. 429 (1895), on rehearing 158 U.S. 601 (1895). Both decisions are collectively referred to as “Pollock.”

[5] U.S. Contusion Art I, Section 8: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;….

[6] Eisner v. Macomber 252 U.S. 189, 206 (1920).

[7] Id., at 207–08. The court adopted the view that “Income may be defined as the gain derived from capital,

from labor, or from both combined,” provided it be understood to include profit gained through a sale or conversion

of capital assets,….” In so holding, the court overturned an attempt to tax stock dividends where there was no realization of profit. The court continues to have to apply the term income in complex situations and the holdings of the court are not uniform. See for example, United States v. Phellis 57 U.S. 156 (1921); Rockefeller v. United States 257 U.S. 176 (1921); Marr v. United States 268 U.S. 536 (1925),  Miles v. Safe Deposit Co., 259 U.S. 247 (1922).

[8] Eisener v. Macomber, at 207.

[9] See for example, United States v. Phellis 57 U.S. 156 (1921); Rockefeller v. United States 257 U.S. 176 (1921); Marr v. United States 268 U.S. 536 (1925),  Miles v. Safe Deposit Co., 259 U.S. 247 (1922).

[10]  Internal Revenue Code 26 U.S.C. Title 26 (2018).

[11] Scott Greenburg, “Federal Tax Laws and Regulations are Now Over 10 Million Words Long”

(October 8, 2015) . https://taxfoundation.org/blog/federal-tax-laws-and-regulations-are-now-over-10-million-words-long/ (downloaded September 16, 2023)

[12] Bowman v. United States, 920 F. Supp. 623 n.1 (E.D. Pa. 1995). Congress has upheld the 1803 admission of Ohio. Five United States Presidents have been from Ohio, and its citizens have paid substantial income taxes.

[13] Brushaber v. Union Pacific R.R. 240 U.S. 1 (1916).

[14] Sochia v. Commissioner 23 F.3d 941 (5th Cir. 1994) Miller v. United States 868 F.2d 236, 241–42 (7th Cir. 1989) (per curiam), United States v. Stahl, 792 F.2d 1438, 1441 (9th Cir. 1986), United States v. Foster 789 F.2d 457 (7th Cir. 1986) Knoblauch v. Commissioner 749 F.2d 200, 202 (5th Cir. 1984).

[15] United States v. Lee 455 U.S. 252, 260 (1982), Jenkins v. Commissioner 483 F.3d 90 (2d Cir. 2007), United States v. Indianapolis Baptist Temple224 F.3d 627 (7th Cir. 2000), Adams v. Commissioner 170 F.3d 173 (3d Cir. 1999), United States v. Ramsey, 992 F.2d 831, 833 (8th Cir. 1993), Wall v. United States 756 F.2d 52, 53 (8th Cir. 1985, United States v. Peister 631 F.2d 658 (10th Cir. 1980).

[16] United States v. Lee 455 U.S. 252, 260 (1982), Jenkins v. Commissioner 483 F.3d 90 (2d Cir. 2007), United States v. Indianapolis Baptist Temple224 F.3d 627 (7th Cir. 2000), Adams v. Commissioner 170 F.3d 173 (3d Cir. 1999) United States v. Ramsey 992 F.2d 831, 833 (8th Cir. 1993),Wall v. United States 756 F.2d 52, 53 (8th Cir. 1985), United States v. Peister 631 F.2d 658 (10th Cir. 1980), Salzer v. Commissioner T.C. Memo. 2014-188, 108 T.C.M. (CCH) 284 (September 15, 2014).

[17]  Hylton v. United States 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 171 (1796).

[18] Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. 157 U.S. 429, 574 (1895).

[19] See, Greg Roselsky, “Is a Wealth Tax Constitutional?” Planet Money (December 17, 2023) www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/12/17/787476334/is-a-wealth-tax-constitutional (Downloaded September 16, 2023).

Miroslav Volf No. 3: Engaging the Public Square

This is the final blog dealing with the public theology of Miroslav Volf, a professor at Yale Divinity School. His book, “A Public Faith, is one every pastor and interested layperson should read. [1]. I am not capable of giving the book the complete review it deserves. I may quibble at points, but the theme and thesis of the book are right on point for where we are today in American and Western society.

Petty Hopes and Great Conflicts

Volf begins his discussion of sharing wisdom in public life with a sentence that describes perfectly contemporary American society.: “We live in an age of great conflicts and petty hopes.”  Volf has already analyzed the reduction of meaning in human life to the achievement of personal satisfaction. Personal satisfaction constitutes the hope of late modern America. Human flourishing has been reduced to the personal selfish achievement of personal power, possessions, religious experience, sexual pleasure, gourmet food, recreational drugs, and whatever individual immediate desire a human might occasionally choose. [2] These are just a few of our petty hopes.

On the other hand, the decline of traditional societies, the emergence of a worldwide, Western-induced, materialistic philosophy of everyday life, and the messianic hopes of radical groups have created a world of great conflict. All over the world, the phenomena of misplaced moral utopianism, secular and religious, have caused and continue to cause foolish revolutionary conflict and violence. During the so-called war on terror, the great conflict was between the secular humanist West and radical Islam. [3]

There are, however, many other conflicts. On the Indian subcontinent, the conflict is often been between Hinduism and Islam. Within Western societies, conflicts have often been between different fundamental ideas concerning the requirements for human flourishing and the proper structure of human society. As I write, Israel has considerable social unrest over a proposal to adjust the judicial system. These significant conflicts threaten the peace and stability of nearly every democratic society and seldom lead to wise and careful policymaking.

Volf believes that a critical challenge for all religions in a pluralistic and troubled world is to help people grow out of their petty hopes to live meaningful lives and help people peacefully resolve more significant conflicts within their society to live in community with others.  I would add helping people grow out of their narrow ideologies to live in community with others. This requires that the world’s religions make available to members of their societies the fullness of the wisdom contained in the traditions they represent.

In the West, Christianity and the Judeo-Christian tradition historically provided an overarching story of the redeeming love of God, concrete, practical advice concerning how people should treat one another, and the representative, personal wisdom of the Old and the New Testament. For Christians, the figure of Jesus Christ embodies the wisdom and love of God in a personal way, reflecting the personal wisdom of a personal God. [4]

Why Share Christian Wisdom?

The Bible is not neutral about whether Christians should share their faith and its implications with others, including secular others. The Great Commission and many related passages, including “So let your light shine before men that they might your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) speak to the need for religious faith to speak to a disbelieving world. Part of “letting your light shine” is letting the brilliant illumination of the Word of God revealed in self-giving love shine into society.

Christians are requested to share the self-giving love of God with others. Love is essentially social and communicative. Humans will speak to our children about important things if we love them. In the same way, if we truly love our neighbors and fellow citizens, we will kindly share with them if it seems that they are on a self-destructive path. The dual duties to share wisdom and to love do, however, limit how Christians are called to interact in society.

  • First, love and violence are antithetical, and no violence can be employed in sharing the love and wisdom of God.
  • Second, the purpose of any communication is to help our society in a loving way. This indicates that hard-selling sales pitches, mischaracterizing our opponents, violent demonstrations, harsh language in social media, and other techniques standard in our society are forbidden to Christians.
  • Third, Christians should refrain from speaking unless they embody in their Way of Life the wisdom they encourage others to adopt. Hypocrisy is not a helpful Christian strategy for social change.
  • Fourth, Christians are not witnesses of their personal, selfish opinions or views but witness to Christ in all things, and our advice has to be given accordingly.

As I was preparing this list, it occurred to me that it is generally (though not always) true that Christians do not give wisdom in the form of a suggested result but as a help to how society makes decisions. To give what I hope is a non-inflammatory illustration, Biblical Wisdom warns against excessive debt. Christians may want to share this wisdom with society. The precise means chosen (reducing spending, increasing taxes, etc.) are not determined within the boundaries of strictly religious knowledge and are matters of practical application.

Christian Faith and Public Engagement

Christians in America live and engage in public life in a society vastly different than those who founded the nation, fought a terrible civil war to eliminate slavery, built its basic industrial infrastructure during the 19th Century, and fought and won two world wars in the 20th century while creating a “post-industrial economy. The United States was the “first modern nation” profoundly impacted by the Enlightenment, the evolution of the modern world, and the growth of an industrial and technological society. During much of this period, secularists felt religion would disappear from public life as people adopted a modern, materialistic worldview.

This is not what happened. Recently, there has been much evidence that the reverse might be happening—and this has caused a predictable rise in concern among secularists about the dangers of religion. Most importantly, beginning with the philosophical work of Nietzsche, the psychoanalytic work of Freud and others, and the rise of post-modern physics, the intellectual foundations of the Enlightenment and the materialistic worldview it engendered began to crumble or at least require serious revision. We sit at the beginning of a new era, and societies are in uncharted waters. Where we are headed in not completely clear. What is clear is that the future will not be exactly the same as the past or as many of the loudest voices in our society desire.

Importantly, human beings now live in a religiously diverse world that will not get any less diverse any time soon. Part of the results of recent social changes is a vast increase in the inevitable interactions among religious groups.  The challenge for Christians, and every member of Western society, is how to live peacefully and productively in a religiously diverse environment. As for secular people, it is clear that no single secular form of modernity can peacefully dominate the world and create a secular “world culture.” There are currently several secular ideologies with substantial followings. Wolf calls this an era of “multiple modernities.” As a result, there will not be one single form of society or one single world culture. It is more likely that multiple world cultures will incorporate parts of what we refer to as the modern worldview.[5]

For example, it is unlikely that Western Europe and North America, with their Judeo-Christian heritage, will look like India, with its Hindu and Buddhist heritage, China, with its Taoist and Confucian heritage, or the Middle East and large parts of the world, with their Muslim heritage. The challenge is finding a modus operendi that will allow all these religious groups and all these modernities to live and work together productively to promote human flourishing, or what might traditionally have been called “the common good.”

Basic Outline of the Political Pluralist Proposal

Volf believes that the Christian faith, with its emphasis on wisdom and love as foundational to the Christian life, supports a form of political pluralism that can help heal the divisions of our culture and allow various religious groups to participate fully in society and public life. Other world religions also incorporate basic ideas similar to those that motivate a Christian response to cultural pluralism. A basic outline of such a view is as follows: [6]

  1. God commands love of neighbor and encourages humans to treat others as we would like to be treated. The Golden Rule is a feature of many societies. [7]
  2. The ultimate authority of God over the universe allows room for the creatures created in his image to manage their societies. While it is true that believers must obey their God, it is not true that believers are not subject to legitimate secular authorities.
  3. While the fundamental texts of every religion guide life, that guidance is usually general and spiritual or moral. There is plenty of room for legal, social, and cultural diversity and innovation within a shared commitment to an ultimate ground of truth, beauty, and goodness.
  4. No single religion or culture has a monopoly on the proper way human societies should function. Specific laws, manners, ideas, concepts, rules, regulations, values, and criteria that shape distinct cultures need only be generally compatible with a shared commitment to fundamental values and religious ideals.
  5. Religious people are called to live within their home cultures as followers of their religious views. They should not regard their own specific religious beliefs as essential to the culture in which they live.
  6. Although religious believers believe that the moral law has universal validity, believers should not impose on secular culture-specific elements of their views except as a result of a democratic process that permits it and grants others the maximum amount of religious and philosophical freedom to pursue their aims peacefully.
  7. Neither Christians nor any other religious group members have a duty to impose their views upon others in society. This is particularly true of those religions for whom peacefulness, love, and voluntary acceptance of religious opinions are fundamental.
  8. A decision to adopt a particular faith must be accepted by people freely and offered to them, not as a command but as a gift. Any legal or other imposition of a religious belief, particular social system, or legislation based on religious views is rejected in principle.

Conclusion

Ultimately, Volf’s proposal is a practical political application of the Golden Rule. Former President Obama, who features in a significant way in his important “Cairo Speech,” believed that a pluralistic international order could be achieved based on the widely shared principle of treating others as we would like to be treated under similar circumstances. [8] If Volf is correct, human societies are not doomed to a “Clash of Civilizations.” [9] The various cultures and religions of the world can live in harmony if they abandon violence to achieve religious results and bring to bear their best wisdom on issues of public importance. This requires a certain confidence that whatever is best in the tradition I happen to subscribe to will, in some way, be reflected in what ultimately is determined to be true. Violence is always a last resort, and often the last resort of those who secretly fear that their views are, in fact, wrong.

A Public Faith is a fine book. It is one I intend to read over and over again.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2011),

[2] Id, at 99.

[3] Id, at 100.

[4] Id, at 102-103. I have reflected upon the role of wisdom in Christian thinking and practice in Path of Life: The Way of Wisdom for Christ Followers (Eugene, WA: Wipf & Stock, 2014) and Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love (Memphis, TN: BookSurge, 2009, 2016).

[5] Id, at 120.

[6] Id, at 142-144.

[7] Something like a universal law of love is found in many cultures. In its classic form, it urges people to treat others as they wish to be treated. The Biblical precept “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” is understood in Jewish and Christian circles as universal, a transcendent principle encompassing the whole meaning and purpose of the law.

In Christianity, it is called the Golden Rule.

[8] Id, at 141.

[9] Id.

Disciple Makers Tool Box

One of the great pleasures of my life was meeting Jack Dannemiller. I vividly remember our first meeting. It was one of my first few days as a pastor in Bay Village, Ohio—a crisp, bright, lovely late October day. Jack came by my office to welcome me to town and brought a few copies of Answers to Life’s Greatest Questions, a pamphlet he published under Living Dialogue Ministries’ imprint. Jack wanted to meet me and discuss the challenges facing youth in Cleveland and Fort Myers, Florida, where Jack lives part of each year. Our visit began a friendship of several years and a partnership in the Gospel in Cleveland and beyond. Answers to Life’s Greatest Questions and several Bible Studies he has published have been successfully translated into Spanish (and other languages) and used by mission partners in Mexico and other places. Others of his books have been useful in congregations in which Kathy and I have participated or have contacts.

Who is Jack Dannemiller?

The answer is, “Jack Dannemiller is a committed Christian layman.” Jack got his first degree from the Case Institute of Technology and then from the Case Western Weatherhead School of Business. His successful business career culminated in his work as the Chairman and CEO of a New York Stock Exchange Company. Currently, he is the Chairman of Living Dialogue Ministries. He has written several books and participated in the preparation of others. He is the Author of “Answers to Your Greatest Questions” and “Reasons for Faith: A Journey into Apologetics.” At an age when many men “slow down,” Jack finds time to be a father and grandfather and serve to cause of Christ in two different cities and beyond.

Jack has been honored by his Alma Mater, which describes Jack’s accomplishments as follows:

Jack Dannemiller’s adage for life and work has served him well: “Discovery is seeing what everyone else is seeing but thinking what no one else thinks.”

For his MBA thesis at what’s now Case Western Reserve University, Dannemiller created the Professional Selling Skills training program that’s been used in a range of industries for more than 50 years.

As chairman and CEO of Applied Industrial Technologies, he brought innovative practices to the Cleveland-based distributor of industrial, motion and control technologies that led to tripling the company’s product types and expanding its global reach. [1]

I did not know Jack during those exciting years of his business career—but I know folks who did, and they all love and admire the man as a wonderful human being. Jack is a guy worth listening to and learning from in many areas of life.

The Disciple Makers Tool Box

Jack’s latest effort is called “The Disciple Makers Tool Box: Instruction Manual: Your Guide to Becoming a Disciple Maker.” [2] This short little book of under 100 pages is precisely what it purports to be—a toolbox for people who wish to be or become disciple-makers. Each chapter contains short, practical, hands-on advice and help concerning how to make disciples for Jesus Christ. It deals with the most basic questions skeptics and secular folks have, the primary barriers to the faith they experience, and the fundamental tools one needs to share your faith with others and help others begin their walk of faith. For example, Jack provides several easily reproducible aids to disciple-making.

Jack answers basic questions not as a pastor or theologian but as a layperson who has a heart for God and wants to know more about how to share their faith. The book is deliberately written in an approachable style. It does not deal with complex issues in depth but instead gives simple, straightforward responses to the kinds of questions people have and the barriers to faith in Christ. The emphasis is on readability by the average person, yet the matters covered can be complex.

Here is a brief outline of the contents of The Disciple Makers Tool Box:

  • Disciple-making dialogue techniques
  • Discerning questions for dialogue
  • Questions and answers for dealing with seekers and skeptics
  • How to explain the real meaning of faith
  • Charts, Illustrations, and Handouts
  • A proven method for studying the Bible
  • Resource references for finding Evidence & Answers
  • A simple course outline on basic Christian Apologetics

Dialogue as a Skill for Disciple Makers

As some readers know, last year I published a book called “Crisis of Discipleship: Renewing the Art of Relational Disciple-Making.” Jack and I were each working on our books at the same time, and I profited greatly from his advice, comments, and wisdom. I had the opportunity to read his manuscript as it developed. He was already Chairman of Living Dialogue Ministries, and I had already been interested in dialogue in various human contexts, including Church leadership and disciple-making. [3] In Crisis of Discipleship, I went into more theoretical detail about why dialogue is important in reaching our culture. Disciple Makers Tool Box has the same emphasis, and dialogue remains a common theme in our work. All the books in the Living Dialogue series have as one goal providing ways for people to have meaningful and helpful conversations with believers and seekers alike.

This emphasis on dialogue is especially important in our divided society, where many people refuse to engage in a loving exchange with those with whom they disagree, especially where politics and religion are involved. One of the most important things Christians can learn to do is communicate effectively into the lives of people in our society. Jack’s emphasis on dialogue is important in this regard.

Conclusion

No book can be perfect, and no short book can cover everything a reviewer or critic might wish were covered in detail. Disciple Makers Tool Box has to be judged by what it is and set out to accomplish—and on that basis, it is a great success. I recommend pastors, small group leaders, disciple-makers, and others read this book and get copies to give away. As I mentioned near the beginning, Kathy and I have used Living Dialogue Ministry Bible studies and materials in small groups we have led, and some of our young mission partners in Mexico have shared the Spanish versions there. The results have been encouraging.

The books published by Living Dialogue Ministries are generally written for an evangelical audience. For readers and friends who would not fit in that category, I emphasize the practical nature of the materials. Because of the straightforward nature of the language, some may feel that the books are too simplistic for their congregation. I urge such readers to resist the temptation to feel this way and allow their congregations and groups to learn from Jack and Living Dialogue Ministries. You will not regret the decision. For those in evangelical congregations, the book will fit easily into the training curriculum for your congregation.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Case Western Reserve University Alumni Association at https://case.edu/alumni/alumni-awards/2022-dannemiller 9downloaded August 21, 2023).

[2] Jack Dannemiller, The Disciple Makers Tool Box: Instruction Manual: Your Guide to Becoming a Disciple Maker (Richmond, VA: Living Dialogue Ministries, 2023). This book and all the others in the Living Dialogue series are available through the ministry’s website at https://livingdialog.org/

[3] I cannot make this a complete review of Jack and his friends, but one of his colleagues, Irving Stubs, is essential. Irving has been a pastor and a consultant specializing in dialogue. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, in retirement and has been influential in encouraging dialogue in business and religion. Irving R. Stubbs is the author of Dialogue: A Way to Live Revised Edition (Richmond VA: Living Dialogue Ministries, 2020).

Miroslav Volf 2: A Public Faith

A Public Faith has two distinct parts. Last week, we dealt with Part I, in which the author outlines the “malfunctions of faith,” i.e., the constant temptation to either attempt to dominate the public square through violence or withdraw entirely from engagement with public life. Volf believes that both these approaches are ultimately flawed and, from a Christian perspective, unfaithful to the gospel. This week, we begin a review of Part II, which Volf entitles “Engaged Faith.” The fundamental point of Christian engagement is to participate in public life so that a witness is made to the wisdom and love of God revealed in Christ. In different societies, this engagement will occur in different ways. Volf aims to sketch out a way of engagement helpful to modern pluralistic, secular societies.

The Constantinian Settlement and Religious Voices in Politics

In the West, Christian engagement with politics and appropriately addressing the public square is complicated by the centuries-long connection between the churches of Europe and its governments. Due to the legacy of the “Constantinian settlement,” and the fact that Christianity was the established religion in much of Europe, Christians in the West became used to being in positions of honor and social influence in society. The loss of this position and the attempts to maintain a privileged position in Western society are, Volf believes, a hindrance to the proper functioning of Christian faith in the Public Square.

Volf gives one example, and I will provide another in the interests of fairness. Volf focuses on the Christian Right that emerged in the 1970s. Jerry Falwell and his short-lived Moral Majority movement attempted to “restore America” to its status as a “Christian nation” by active engagement in politics. On the other hand, we have the example of Faith in Public Life and other left-wing social action groups affiliated with the American left—a group powerful in the Democratic Party. Each of these groups, and many others on all sides of the political spectrum, represent a sense that certain religious voices have been marginalized and need to be heard at the table of public debate. The involvement of some indicates an unwillingness for the views they represent to lose the privileged position to which they are accustomed.

One description of the Christian left reads: “Liberal theology has roots in Enlightenment philosophy, which suggested a rational and contextual reading of the Bible. The Liberation Theology of the 1960s cemented liberal Christians’ stance on active participation in social justice work.” [1] Readers of this blog will understand that the Christian left is not a child of the 1960s but has a long history in America from the Social Gospel movement forward. The Christian right, on the other hand, has a different history. Evangelicalism had little political voice or interest until the 1970s, when the issue of abortion began to trouble American life. At that point, traditional Christians, catholic and Protestant, began to enter public life and seek a place at the table.

My point in this section is to underscore that Volf is correct in his analysis—but he does not necessarily fairly describe the situation. The quote above focuses on what I think is the most critical factor in the current situation: the Enlightenment’s antagonism towards orthodox Christianity and its attempts to silence religious voices. This endeavor continues to the present time in an increasingly militant manner.

The Marginalized History of Christian Faith

Volf believes that there is something odd about this situation. The early Christians did not sit at the center of power but at the margins. Christianity was a small, despised, and persecuted faith in the first few centuries. The primary issue of public theology was whether or not Cesar was to be obeyed, with the apostolic leadership urging obedience to civil authorities, even though they frequently persecuted the young church. [2] Opposition meant certain martyrdom. The early Christians worshiped the God of Israel and the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth in whose footsteps they attempted to walk. [3] For the most part, they ignored and did not participate in the public life of the Empire.

Volf’s goal in writing a public theology is to look toward the future in which the church is once again at the margins of society and yet dispel the inevitable gloom that some feel and generate hope for Christian and other religious communities at the beginning of the 21st century. He wants to make the Christian community comfortable with being just one of many players in a secular society, or what he would call a “religiously plural” society. He wants to articulate a public theology allowing Christians and others, whether at the margins or the center of power, to promote the common good in their own way. [4] This is a noble goal.

Church and Sect

One of the most interesting parts of A Public Faith is his analysis of the distinction between “church” and “cult” as it impacted the work of Earnest Troeltsch and Max Weber. Only a European familiar with the state church concepts prominent in European society can fully appreciate its distinction, history, and inapplicability to contemporary politics. According to Troeltsch, the church is an institution of society and sits at its center, or as a sect, is set apart from society and generally opposes it. The church is an established institution, part of the social order; a sect is a marginalized group. The state recognizes a church; a sect is tolerated. [5]

I remember years ago being surprised to learn that the Assemblies of God and Pentecostal groups were considered “sects” in a particular European country and not entitled to the certain protections afforded to the state churches. To an American, this seemed utterly illogical. However, the distinction is a part of the fact that, in most European countries, there was an established church. It might be the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, a Lutheran, or a Reformed Church. The state recognized and funded these institutions, and their pastors, were semi-official state representatives.

On the other hand, sects, such as the Assemblies of God or perhaps the Brethren, are not so recognized. Volf grew up as a Pentecostal in Yugoslavia, a member of what would have been seen as a sect. In many European countries, there was no such thing as “religious freedom.” One was expected to be a member of the state church. One was, by birth, such a member.

Americans have a hard time understanding the religious history of Europe and how religious freedom developed in Europe. In Europe, after the religious wars in Europe (1517-1648), religious tolerance gradually developed, and state religions lost their monopoly on faith. [6] From the very beginning, immigrants from various countries inhabited North America. Many had left in search of the religious freedom they did not enjoy in Europe. Almost immediately, America developed a kind of religious pluralism that would take years to develop in Europe.

By the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, another kind of pluralism began to develop in Europe and the United States. No longer were the religious distinctions between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews central, but various other groups started to have substantial followings, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and others. This was also true in Europe, especially in those nations with significant Muslim populations. As a result, the old distinction between sects and churches has no meaning. [7] Today, to talk of religious freedom in America is to recognize that many religions and groups are entitled to such freedom.

Accommodation or Entrenchment

Religious groups have taken different tactics in responding to religious pluralism and the decline of their influence in society. This is an oversimplification; generally, the more liberal tendency has been to accommodate contemporary Enlightenment social voices and try to find a way of expressing faith that fundamentally secular people can understand. The efforts of Fredrich Schleiermacher come to mind. [8] To the extent these groups participate in public life, they tend to adopt the political views of the political left as a part of their accommodation.

On the other side of the political spectrum, in the “post-liberal” program, there is an attempt to maintain the primacy of religious grammar in transmitting faith. Instead of translating religious faith into secular conceptualizations, post-liberalism attempts to describe a secular society in religious terms and maintain its sacred language and beliefs intact. This cultural-linguistic” approach is attractive to both moderate, traditional, and conservative religious people and those impacted by what used to be called the “Yale school” and its narrative/ linguistic approach to Christian theology. [9]

External Mission or Internal Difference

Volf moves from his analysis of church and sect to a distinction between a “separatist view” and a view he calls “internal difference.” Volf uses Bonhoeffer as a proponent of a kind of separatist view based upon a passage from Cost of Discipleship in which he speaks of Christians as amid the world but ready to be called out of the world at any moment. [10] I think that his use of Bonhoeffer in this regard was unwise.

The Greek word we translate as “church,” “ekklesia,” means “those called out.” From the beginning of the Christin church, there has been a sense in which the church is always something outside of society, and its members are sojourners, pilgrims on earth awaiting a better land (Philippians 3:20; I Peter 2:11-12; Hebrews 11:9-10, 13, 16). Any public theology must take seriously the notion that in some sense, even while being in the world, Christians are also those who have been called out of the world into the fellowship of Christ. The “separatist view” has Biblical support and a call on Christians in matters of public life.

Against the idea that the church is separated from the world, called into a kind of sectarian isolation, Volf defends the view that the church is internal to the world but different, a view he calls “internal difference.” It is hard to disagree with this move. As physical beings and institutions, Christians and churches are inevitably in the world and part of that world. Therefore, insofar as Christians participate in public life, they must participate within society and as a part of it.

Subversion or Self-Giving Love

Unfortunately in my view, Volf puts forward the idea that, in some way, the church is to be a “subversive institution,” by which he means an institution that lives by different rules and thus challenges or subverts the notions of power, position, and the like. He uses the example of Indians and other oppressed people. Although I appreciate Volf’s intention, I am not certain that the notion of “subversion” can be squared with either scripture or tradition. In scripture, there is the constant refrain from the apostolic witness that Christians are to live peacefully within society and respect its rulers. [11] I doubt the postmodern notion of subversion was in the mind of Peter, Paul, or any other apostles.

Instead of subversion, Christians are called to something more challenging—self-giving love. [12] While there can be no doubt that Christians must seek to overturn structures of society that prohibit human flourishing (to use Volf’s word), this is always a result of love. For example, when Dietrich Bonhoeffer left New York and returned to Germany in 1939, he did not give as his intent the subversion of the Nazi regime. He intended to share in the sufferings of the German people. [13] Shortly after arriving in America, Bonhoeffer seems to have had a moment of clarity, realizing that he must return to Germany and share the suffering of the German people. Explaining his decision, he wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, who had helped create a place of safety for him:

“I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.” [14]

I think Bonhoeffer did not return to Germany to become a subversive but to share the suffering of the people he loved. After returning, he did not immediately join the resistance. When entering the resistance to Hitler, Bonhoeffer knew that his action was morally ambiguous (and held the danger of the death he ultimately suffered). Bonhoeffer was forced to consider his calling to resist the evil of the Nazi regime (an act of loyalty, not subversion), even if it meant stepping away from his commitment to pacifism and non-violence. When challenged by a student in one of his lectures, Bonhoeffer let the student know that he understood the moral demands that were becoming more evident daily in Nazi Germany. [15] He was also aware that the admonition, “He who lives by the sword,” dies by the sword, applied to himself and others who opposed Hitler just as much as did Hitler and his Nazi cohorts. [16] This comment is essential to understanding Bonhoeffer’s theological and moral rationale for his activities. He understood that his decisions and activities were morally and theologically ambiguous, though he felt he was acting in faith. I believe that a love of God and his fellow Germans put Bonhoeffer on the road to his martyrdom, not a calling to subversion.

Conclusion

I need to make one more week of this fine book. It may seem that I have been critical in this blog, but I agree with A Public Faith‘s major points. Sometimes, I would choose a different phrase or terminology, but the point is the same or close to the same. One might call the differences, a “point of emphasis.” I think Volf would agree with what I have said in this blog and critique my critique by pointing out this commitment to the Law of Love, which is a part of the thesis of the entire book.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Ruth Terry, “The Christian Right and Left Share the Same Faith But Couldn’t Be More Different” Yes! Solutions Journal (December 24, 2019) https://www.yesmagazine.org/social-justice/2019/12/24/political-christian-belief Downloaded August 9, 2023).

[2] See for example, Acts 4:18-20; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Titus 3:1-2; I Timothy 2:1-15.

[3] Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2011), 78.

[4] Id, at 79.

[5] Id. This discussion is found at 81ff.

[6] The Peace of Westphalia (1648) brought to an end an eighty-year war between Spain and Holland and the thirty years war as it involved Germany. The peace was negotiated, in the Westphalian towns of Munster and Osnabruck, hence the name. Many scholars date the emergence of the modern secular state and the emergence of a preference for religious freedom from this event.

[7] A Public Faith, 81ff.  In all likelihood, for the purposes of analysis, we ought to dispense with the term “Church” and speak of “Religious Fellowships” when describing the current pluralist situation in the West. Christian Churches are simply one of the many forms of Religious Fellowships people belong to.

[8]  See, Fredrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, trans. & ed Richard Crouter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). This is one of his most quoted books and serves as an introduction to his thought. This is also not the place to discuss Schleiermacher and his considerable impact on Western thought in various areas, philosophical, theological, and otherwise.

[9] See George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philidelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984). This book made Lindbeck and his former colleague Hans Frei, prominent leaders of post-liberalism or the so-called “New Yale School” of theology.

[10] Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship ed. Gefferey B. Kelly & John D. Godsey tr. Barbara Green & Reinhard Krauss (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001), 250-251.

[11] See footnote 2 above for citations. One cannot make a biblical case for the idea of subversion without turning into something like “Critical Love.”

[12] I am certain that VOlf would agree with this—and all he means by “subversion” is that kind of subversion that love would inevitably cause in a society ruled by the love of power.

[13] Most of this comes from a blog I did some time ago. See, G.Christopher Scruggs, “Bonhoeffer 5: Political Resistance 1839-19423”(October 10, 2022) found at https://gchristopherscruggs.com/?p=3157 (downloaded August 11, 2023).

[14] This letter is often quoted. I am using the quote as recorded by Learn Religious, “Biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Theologian, and Martyr” at https://www.learnreligions.com/dietrich-bonhoeffer-4771872 (downloaded August 25, 2022)

[15] Mary Bosaquet, The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1968), 199-200.

[16] Id, at 205.

Miroslav Volf No. 1: A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good

This week, we are looking at A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. [1] The author, Miroslav Volf, is a Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and founder and leading force of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He was educated in his native Croatia, the United States, and Germany, earning doctoral and post-doctoral degrees from the University of Tübingen, Germany. He has written or edited over 20 books and many 100 scholarly and general publications. [2]

Volf was raised a Pentecostal. His master’s degree was from Fuller Theological Seminary, an independent seminary very much connected to the Reformed movement. He studied and wrote his dissertation under Jurgen Moltmann, a German Reformed theologian, in Tubingen, Germany. He attempts to find a mediating position in his work and respects Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox views.

Roots of Volf’s Interest in Public Theology

Volf grew up in Croatia (the former Yugoslavia) as a Protestant in a secular Communist society. [3] Yugoslavia was constantly threatened by religious violence because of the existence of Roman Catholics, Serbian Orthodox, and Muslim subcultures. After the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, tribal violence erupted. As Volf notes in an interview:

The wars in the former Yugoslavia were waged partly in the name of pure identity: with Muslims, especially in Kosovo, Serbs and Croatians alike insisted on the purity of their respective soil, blood, and culture. So I was also looking at the Christian tradition for resources to help me think about identity. [4]

In A Public Faith, Volf is additionally motivated to respond to current issues that trouble American Christianity. In the book, he is mainly concerned with defending the Christian faith and participation in politics from those secular humanists who believe that the Christian faith should be suppressed, particularly in the public square. Finally, since “9-11,” Volf has engaged in interfaith dialogue concerning religious violence. A Public Faith is designed to address violence as a malfunction of religious faith. In particular, Volf addresses Christians regarding our history of violence, evident not just in the distant past but in contemporary events in places like Ireland, Croatia, etc.

Volf believes the issue of a proper relationship between religion and politics is critical in the modern world because contemporary societies have been impacted by the unwillingness of religious people of many faiths and cultures to keep their religious views private and because, in a multicultural world, it is practically impossible to avoid the issues raised by religious groups. [5] In an increasingly interconnected world, it is essential for all religious groups to consider their public behavior carefully.

Malfunctions of Religious Faith in Public Life

 Volf believes there are two fundamental ways in which faith groups can malfunction in public life:

  1. First, by completely withdrawing from public life, leaving faith “idling” in all spheres outside their private and church lives; or
  2. Second, by engaging in public life coercively, assuming that one’s faith is the exclusive form of religious truth. This danger is not limited to religious people; secularists can sometimes fall into this flawed view. [6]

In A Public Faith, Volf argues against these two extremes. Against the distorted ideas of secular exclusivists and religious totalitarians, Volf contends that, in a society and world in which there are many conflicting faiths, freedom of religion and tolerance should be relied upon to prevent religious or antireligious violence. Naturally, there is no “right” to engage in violent or coercive behavior or to claim the right to persecute other groups.

As a point of departure, Volf acknowledges that Christians and other groups have \condoned violence from religious motives. However, he believes that when Christians (or adherents of any religion, sacred or secular) invoke violence to advance their cause, what he calls “a religious malfunction” occurs. [7] Those who use violence, especially Christians, either do not understand the full implications of the Christian faith and the commandment of love or mistakenly do not think it applies to the actions they are advocating.

Religious Political Pluralism

Volf opposes any religious or secular monistic monopoly in the public arena.  In A Public Faith, he outlines a position he describes as “religious, political pluralism.”  This view holds that society should encourage the full participation of the views of all groups, including all religious groups, in public life. The secular and Christian ideals of freedom of thought, speech, and opinion support this idea.

Since the religious wars fulminated by the Reformation, and increasingly since the Enlightenment and the rise of Marxism, there have been those who believed that the best social policy is to remove religion from public life. Increasingly, in the West, militant secularism has emerged that is opposed to religion, believes it harmful, and desires to see it suppressed.  The recent “War Against Terrorism” resulted in greater fear of the danger of religious extremism. Against this, Volf argues that religion is deeply seated in humankind and cannot be suppressed without a loss of freedom and individual choice. Therefore, he seeks a “religious political pluralism” that secures Christians and other religious groups a place at the table without giving up their distinctive beliefs.

Christian Engagement

As to Christian engagement in public life, Volf believes there is no single Christian way to connect to the broader culture and participate in public life. Volf does not think it wise for Christians to embrace a particular response to culture (in Niebuhrian terms, “of, against, or transforming”).  Instead, while remaining true to the specific convictions of their faith, Christians should approach involvement in public life in an ad-hoc manner, accepting, rejecting, or partly changing some aspects of culture, possibly completely withdrawing from others, and cheerfully celebrating others. This is a non-ideological approach to cultural engagement. In each case, Christian involvement must be guided by and embody the commandment of love at the center of Christian life and teaching.

Human Flourishing and Cultural Engagement

Volf uses as his fundamental category for guiding Christian involvement in politics the notion of “flourishing.” The idea is that Christians believe that faith in Christ and adopting the lifestyle of Christ leads to the healthiest form of human development and health, personal and social. Using the idea of “flourishing” also provides Volf with a non-religious word that can act as a bridge for discussion between various religions and secular people, all of whom presumably support and believe in human flourishing.

Volf believes that the modern contemporary idea of flourishing is irreducibly experiential and requires the continual experience of satisfaction of the desire for pleasurable experiences, personal, social, economic, etc. Unfortunately, people who believe that American experiential happiness is doomed to continual disappointment. Because human beings are inherently capable of transcending, the immediate, any immediate satisfaction is bound to be followed by another desire to be satisfied. This is an endless sequence demonstrated daily in modern care society.

Volf submits this form of experiential satisfaction to an Augustinian critique. Augustine would agree that human beings seek a kind of happiness that involves pleasure. However, Augustine also believes that human beings suffer from disordered loves and often seek a distorted and incomplete happiness, thus dooming themselves to failure in achieving human flourishing. [8]

Historically, Christians have believed that human flourishing and social harmony could only be achieved as humans loved God and one another. With the Enlightenment, most Western societies gave up thinking that the first part of the Great Commandment was necessary or desirable for human flourishing. In addition, the second component, love of neighbor, was deprived of any ultimate warrant and became a source of conflict between differing visions of what love of neighbor required. The result is the ideological politics of the late 20th and 21st centuries. In the current situation, love and hope both disappear as cultural realities. This is precisely what has happened in early 21st-century America.

Volf compares Augustine’s critique to the solutions offered by the Stoics (life lived by universal reason) and Nietzsche (life lived according to human willpower: Augustine believed that”

  1. God is not an impersonal reason distributed throughout the world but a person who loves and can be loved in return.
  2. Human beings made in the image of God are made for love and relationships.
  3. People live best and with the greatest happiness when they love God, a neighbor.
  4. Human flourishing requires the love of God and neighbor.

For Augustine and Christians, this notion of human flourishing fits a rational view of the universe. Unfortunately, many people in contemporary society cannot see this as a possibility, so captured are they by a fundamentally hedonistic and Nietzschean view of life. Returning to Volf notion of religious malfunction, whenever religion fails to love and concentrate on the development of human relationships with God and others, it malfunctions. Thus, any resort to force a connection with political behavior is a malfunction. This is the ground of the feeling that Wolfe has that many religions, currently and in the past, have malfunctioned.

Conclusion

Dividing this analysis of A Public Life into more than a single blog is necessary. This work is so dense that it is impossible to cover it adequately in one review. The simplest way to summarize this week is to see that love does sit at the center of a healthy polity. For Christians, this means that the great commandment to love God and others is a commandment that must be taken into public life in such a way as to promote human flourishing peacefully. The commandment of love also forbids Christians to use any form of violence to achieve their ends in public life.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2011.

[2] Yale Center for Religion and Culture https://faith.yale.edu/people/miroslav-volf (downloaded August 1, 2023).

[3] Six republics made up the former Yugoslavia: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia (including the regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina), and Slovenia. Following the fall of communism in Yugoslavia, it split into separate areas.  Yugoslavia was a mix of ethnic groups and religions, with Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism, and Islam being the primary religions. In the ensuing conflict, there was a great deal of violence and even genocide.

[4] Miroslav Volf, “Faith and Reconciliation: A Personal Journey”  and interview with Rupert Shortt, found at  www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/miroslav-volf-faith-and-reconciliation-a-personal-journey/ (downloaded August 1, 2023).

[5] A Public Faith, ix-x.

[6] This is a difficult area to address, but “Secular Humanism” is a kind of secular faith and should be subject to the same duties in participating in public life as are religious groups. This is particularly true of what might be called “militant secularists” who are motivated to eliminate religious participation in public life.

[7] Id, at 4.

[8] Id, 58-59.

Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden

Greg Ogden is a well-known pastor, ministry leader, seminary professor, author, and seminar leader. In my Doctor of Ministry program, we read one of Greg Ogden’s books, Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God. [1] Unfinished Business focuses on lay empowerment. It was very well received by the group. Over the years, Unfinished Business made it into a few sermons, became foundational for our small group and spiritual gifts ministries, and was often reflected upon. In my experience, the longer I was in ministry, the more life was dominated by the duties of ministry and the less time I spent empowering individual laypersons.

Despite our failures, Kathy and I were always in one or more small discipleship groups during our years leading congregations. Eventually, I wrote a year-long study for our church members known as “Salt & Light.” More recently, I published Crisis of Discipleship: Renewing the Art of Relational Disciplemaking to hopefully convey what we learned over the years to a new generation. [2]

As part of revising Crisis of Discipleship, I recently read Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time. [3]  In this book, Ogden champions a relational way of making disciples that emphasizes “Triads,” groups of three or four individuals, one of whom is a mentor, who embark upon a journey of discipleship together. Because discipleship is an inherently relational process, Ogden believes that fundamental transformation best occurs in small, transformational mentoring relationships. In developing his thesis, the examples of Jesus and Paul loom large in Ogden’s mind. I very much enjoyed this section of the book.

Part One: The Problem

Why Be Concerned?

Why should we pay attention to Ogden’s ideas? The answer is simple: All the evidence supports the conclusion that American churches are doing a poor job of discipleship. As Chuck Colson reportedly said, “American discipleship is 3000 miles wide and an inch deep.” Colson voiced this view at a time when the evangelical movement had succeeded in drawing a new generation into its churches. Today, we are experiencing the limitations of focusing on church growth, programs that attract people, and entertainment-centered worship. Nearly all Christian groups, including those with the name “Evangelical,” are stable or shrinking.

In Transforming Discipleship, Ogden sets out several indicators that American congregations are failing at discipleship:

  1. American Churches are not creating proactive disciples who independently reach out to others.
  2. American Christians are not taught and do not display a “Way of Life” different from the way of life secular people enjoy.
  3. American Christians too easily divide their personal and business lives from their faith, resulting in cultural conformity.
  4. American Christians often reflect the values of a materialistic American culture instead of the importance of Christ.
  5. American Christianity is excessively individualistic as opposed to communal. [4]

It is hard to argue with any of these conclusions.

American evangelicalism, the branch of Christianity most enthusiastic about the Great Commission, often reduces the Great Commission to “salvation” by “accepting Christ.” This divorces evangelism from the Biblical call to “make disciples who obey.” This diminished view of salvation and discipleship is without support in Scripture but has become a common form in many churches. Worse, in many congregations, “joining the church” has become the goal of evangelism, with discipleship relegated to voluntary participation in Sunday School.

American church leadership cannot escape responsibility for the situation. Church leaders like myself, who concentrate on worship, preaching, and maintaining the institutional structure, have not placed disciple-making at the center of their vocation. As Ogden puts it, “In spite of Jesus’ strategy of calling people from crowds and focusing on a few, we continue to rely upon preaching and programs as a means to make disciples.” [5] Many church leaders, and thus many congregations, either have no clear idea of how to create vibrant self-actuating disciples or deliberately rely on preaching and programming because this is within their area of comfort. “We rely upon programs because we do not want to make the personal investment that discipleship requires. [6]

Pushing the Great Commission to the Margins

Pastors have become so invested in preparation for worship and being a part of the busyness of the programs and activities of the church that they have forgotten their primary calling to make disciples. Underlying all these factors is one fundamental fact: The American church, indeed the churches of Western Culture generally, have failed to make disciple-making central to the mission and ministry of the local congregation and modeled by its leaders. Yet where the church operates as intended, there is proactive disciple-making, a distinct difference in the values of Christians and the surrounding society, a unity of church and secular life among believers, a rejection of a materialistic lifestyle, and a life-transforming community. These churches are spiritually healthy, whatever their size.

The Problem with Programs.

For most of my pastoral career, I led larger program-centered congregations. Most such congregations were impacted directly or indirectly by the “Seven Day a Week” model that placed programming at the center of their essentially institutional vision. [7] The problem program-based discipleship are several:

  1. Programs tend to focus on conveying information or knowledge. As a result, they rarely result in deeper personal relationships with God, other Christians, or a suffering world.
  2. Programs focus on a leader preparing to convey the information or knowledge to the participants.
  3. Programs focus on structure, regimentation, and standardized results.
  4. Programs typically require little accountability from participants who “attend.” [8]

For all these reasons, programs are unlikely to produce transformed disciples who can share their faith with others and disciple them effectively. I began my ministry in a small congregation, where my motto was “People before Programs.” Unfortunately, the pressure of leading larger congregations made me forget the truth in that epigram. In recent years, I have come to believe that our excessive focus on church growth, size, and programming was mistaken.

Part Two: The Solution

Jesus and Paul: Our Prime Examples.

Not surprisingly, Ogden’s solution to the problem is to direct the church’s and its leaders’ attention back to the example of Jesus. Although Jesus ministered to “crowds,” he invested most of his time and energy into a core group of disciples with whom he shared his life and communicated the life of God. He called the disciples in pairs and one at a time to follow him in the life of discipleship. As time passed, three of the twelve (Peter, James, and John) received special attention and encouragement to grow in their discipleship. Luke indicates that Jesus chose the disciples due to a season of prayer. If today’s leaders are to follow Jesus, they must pray for a small group of candidates and invest time in them just as Jesus did.

From the beginning, Jesus was preparing his chosen few for the work of the Great Commission. He invested time in teaching and modeling the life of faith for the Twelve. He sent them out two by two to practice what they had internalized (Mark 3:14-15). He coached the twelve and supported them in their growth. He refused to do everything and therefore delegated increasing responsibility to them, knowing that the cross lay ahead.

Like Jesus, Paul invested tremendous energy in the few. Silus, Luke, Timothy, Titus, and others mentioned in the New Testament traveled with Paul, shared his life, and received intimate mentorship and teaching in a transparent and supportive relationship. As a result, they were empowered to continue accomplishing the Great Commission. These leaders were formed in the context of a personal relationship.

Part Three: Multiplying Discipleship

Ogden is not satisfied with merely reciting the Biblical grounds for a change in how pastors, church leaders, and local congregations create more mature believers. He has specific suggestions as to how this can be accomplished. These suggestions do not take the form of a particular program. To develop the method, one begins with the goal: mature disciples. In Ogden’s view, Mature disciples are formed over time through accountable relationships intended to bring believers to a more profound and life-transforming relationship with Christ.[9]

To accomplish this goal, Ogden suggests a particular strategy to assist leaders:

  1. Life-transforming discipleship is not accomplished by programs but by life investment.
  2. Investment in disciples means having close personal relationships with believers growing in their faith.
  3. Life investment and deep relationships take time and develop slowly.
  4. Small groups, what Ogden calls “Triads,” are the most effective means to accomplish the goal of disciple-making. [10]

Conditions for a Discipling Relationship

Naturally, not every relationship can become a disciple-making relationship. There are conditions for an effective disciple-making relationship.

  1. Trust. The disciple must trust that the leader is capable of helping develop a deeper relationship with Christ, and the disciple-maker must believe that the disciple has the character, energy, and drive to grow in Christ. Personal accountability, transparency, confession, and active direction must exist for such a relationship to exist. [11]
  2. God’s Word. At the center of any disciple-making relationship is the Word of God. [12] As Paul said to Timothy:

You know who your teachers were, and you remember you have known the Holy Scriptures since childhood. These Scriptures can give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. God inspires all Scripture and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed. (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

  1. Mutual Accountability. There can be no real growth where there is no accountability. In a discipling relationship, this accountability is mutual. The mentor and the mentee must be accountable to one another for the connection. [13]

Conclusion

Transforming Discipleship is a fine book, well-written and easy to follow. Ogden sets out a strategy and the details of a particular methodology that is important and much needed. In particular, his focus on intimate relationships of trust and accountability is important. There is much more to the book and the strategy Odgen suggests than I can relate here. I would recommend Transforming Discipleship to any pastor or church leader considering adopting a new and better plan for making and growing disciples in our culture.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[1] Greg Ogden, Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990, 2003).

[2] G. Christopher Scruggs, Crisis of Discipleship: Renewing the Art of Relational Disciplemaking (College Station, TX: VirtualBookworm, 2022). This book is currently under revision, and I recommend waiting to purchase it until a new, updated, and expanded version is available.

[3] Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003). In this review, I will not precisely follow Ogden’s outline.

[4] Id, at 40-46. In creating this list, I have slightly rephrased the argument contained in the book.

[5] Id, at 67.

[6] Id.

[7] This phrase is from the important book authored by church consultant Lyle Schaller, The Seven Day a Week Church (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992). For many pastors in my generation this book and others by Schaller were instrumental in forming our vision of how to grow a vital church.

[8] Transforming Discipleship, 42-45.

[9] Id, at 129. I have rephrased Ogden’s exact definition.

[10] While I believe that Ogden’s idea of  discipleship in “Triads” is Biblical and important, my own view is that the number is not as important as that the number of disciples mentored by an individual be small enough that the disciple-maker can invest personally and deeply in each person.

[11] Id, at 134-162.

[12] Id, 162-168.

[13] Id, 168-174.